Seeking Justice and Peace

Catholic Relief Services and its partners host a day for religious leaders to visit and pray with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Bangui, the Central African Republic on 28 May, 2014.

Catholic Relief Services and its partners host a day for religious leaders to visit and pray with internally displaced persons in Bangui, the Central African Republic. Photo by Catianne Tijerina for CRS

Dear Friend,

This month we mark the 240th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s stirring words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That passage from the Declaration of Independence shares a mutual foundation with Catholic social teaching—the dignity of mankind. Consider Pope Francis’ words on this year’s World Day of Peace: “As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human.” Read the rest of this entry »


‘Laudato Si’’ Changed Minds, Encouraged Hearts

Dear Friend,

CRS President and CEO Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo speaks at a 2015 news conference to present Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ to the world. Also pictured are Orthodox Metropolitan John of Pergamon and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Photo courtesy of Paul Harring/CNS

CRS President and CEO Carolyn Y. Woo speaks one year ago during a news conference to present Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ to the world. Also pictured are Orthodox Metropolitan John of Pergamon and Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Photo courtesy of Paul Harring/CNS

It was on this week one year ago that Pope Francis launched Laudato Si’—his much-anticipated encyclical on the environment. At least, that’s the shorthand commonly used to describe the document. In fact, Laudato Si’ is so much more. It is really about making fundamental changes in our relationships with the gifts God gives us—especially his gift of the natural world, but also of our brethren in the family of mankind.

So much has happened since the Holy Father issued his encyclical, including the historic December meeting in Paris. Together, the United States, China and scores of other nations agreed to work to stem rising global temperatures, with richer nations pledging to help people in poorer countries suffering the consequences of environmental neglect.

We can’t say if that would that have happened without Pope Francis’ guiding hand on both our intellects and our consciences. But we can say that Laudato Si’ was a game changer.

Business, which is my background, receives much-deserved criticism in the encyclical for its role in the degradation of the environment. And I think you have seen a shift in the last year. From increasing investments in clean energy sources, to pledges to reduce energy use, many more business leaders are showing that they understand a healthy planet will also mean a healthy business. They realize that short-term thinking will lead to long-term disaster. That’s the kind of relationship change the pope calls for.

At Catholic Relief Services, our I Am Climate Change campaign has energized students on college campuses across the country, inspiring them to look at their own behaviors and speak out for others, especially by advocating with government leaders.

Aster Sisay will benefit from the REAAP project, or Resilience through Enhanced Adaptation, Action-Learning and Partnership. The CRS project is helping nearly half a million people adapt new practices and technologies to better withstand climate change. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for CRS

Aster Sisay will benefit from the REAAP project, or Resilience through Enhanced Adaptation, Action-Learning and Partnership. The CRS project is helping nearly half a million people adapt new practices and technologies to better withstand climate change. Photo by Petterik Wiggers for CRS

Around the world, we support programs that engage with the message of Laudato Si’. In a group of villages in eastern Ethiopia, we are taking a comprehensive approach to help people deal with a changing environment. As a result, these communities can better forecast changes in rain patterns. They are on the way to preserving precious topsoil and water resources so they can provide their families with proper nutrition, whatever the weather.

For people whose lives depend on what comes out of the ground, it is critical that they can manage their resources properly as they face challenges related to climate change, exacerbated this year in Ethiopia by droughts caused by El Niño.

There are some measures that can bring immediate relief, like raised-bed keyhole gardens, which can produce nutritious vegetables with very little water. But, for the most part, we know that the changes needed are not going to happen quickly. This will require commitment and perseverance. It took decades to get into this situation, and it will take decades to get out.

Across Africa, we are at work on a program called Climate Smart Agriculture that will lead to millions of farmers adapting to the new climate realities by planting better types of crops, using improved tilling techniques and taking measures to preserve water and soil.

Such work goes on in so many places in our world, whether in Central America, where rising temperatures are affecting which crops farmers can grow, or in Bangladesh, where rising sea levels threaten low-lying communities.

Pope Francis has shown us the foundation needed to build our better world. Its cornerstone is this simple thought: What kind of world do we want to leave our children? What kind of world do we want to leave the children growing up in those villages in Ethiopia?

God is so generous and bountiful. He has given us a precious gift—our natural world—that will more than take care of our needs. But we must be the stewards of this gift, cherishing and nurturing it, not exploiting it selfishly.

That is the changed relationship that Pope Francis asks of us. It will be a long road to get there, but in the last year we have been greatly encouraged along this wondrous journey.

May blessings overflow,

 

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO


Celebrating Our Mother Church

Dear Friend,

Kenyan Susan Adhiambo, 20, shown here with her son Levis, works with CRS to protect her family from Malaria. Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS.

Kenyan Susan Adhiambo, 20, shown here with her son Levis, works with CRS to protect her family from Malaria. Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS.

It has been said that Mother’s Day was invented just to sell greeting cards. Maybe that’s true, but there’s a reason it caught on: It is fitting and appropriate that every May we set aside a day to honor mothers. We should probably do it every month.

Or maybe not—because we know that Mother’s Day may mean a well-intended breakfast of burnt toast and overcooked eggs, accompanied by the hopeful eyes of earnest children. It is one time that the saying “It’s the thought that counts” is really true!

But as we celebrate the love and nurturing we received growing up, there is another mother we should think about—our Mother Church. As the Bride of Christ, the Church really is the mother to us all; indeed, to all of God’s family that is humanity. The Church mothers us, loves us, nurtures us.

And in doing that, she fosters the work we do at Catholic Relief Services. This maternal status provides CRS with an ideal we strive for.

Syrian refugee Batool watches over her son Hani as they bed down by the roadside near the Serbia/Croatia border. "I left Syria because it is becoming very ugly, terrible things happen, babies are killed," Batool says. "I was so scared for my baby."  Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

Syrian refugee Batool watches over her son Hani as they bed down by the roadside near the Serbia/Croatia border. “I left Syria because it is becoming very ugly, terrible things happen, babies are killed,” Batool says. “I was so scared for my baby.” Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

You understand the word “paternalistic.” It’s a negative term that connotes treating someone in a demeaning way: from a position of implied superiority, without respect, and with limits on their freedom and autonomy. “It’s for their own good,” is the paternalist excuse.

There is no counterpart for mothers. “Maternalistic” isn’t even a word.

To treat someone as a mother would is to provide the qualities we celebrate on Mother’s Day. Just look at the synonyms the dictionary lists for “maternal”: protective, caring, loving, devoted, affectionate, fond, warm, tender, gentle, kind, comforting.

To act like a mother is never to seek admiration or generate dependence, but to help one along the way to a flourishing independence. Like a mother bird, who sacrifices to ensure that her eggs hatch safely—and then sees that her chicks are fed—all with the goal of watching the birds leave the nest and fly on their own.

As Pope Francis said last year, “The Church is our mother and welcomes all of us as a mother: Mary our Mother, our Mother Church, and this motherhood are expressed through an attitude of welcome, understanding, goodness, forgiveness and tenderness.

“And where there is motherhood and life, there’s joy, there’s peace, and we grow in peace. When this motherhood is lacking, all that remains is rigidity, discipline, and people do not know how to smile. One of the most beautiful and human things is to smile at a child and make him or her smile.”

Ngoc Thi Anh Tran (L-front)  suffers from disabilties that denied her the educational opportunities of her siblings.  When a CRS program gave her and her family the opportunity for special education homeschooling, the first words she learned to say were "mother" and "grandmother."  Photo by Jennifer Hardy for CRS

Ngoc Thi Anh Tran (L-front) suffers from disabilties that denied her the educational opportunities of her siblings. When a CRS program gave her and her family the opportunity for special education homeschooling, the first words she learned to say were “mother” and “grandmother.” Photo by Jennifer Hardy for CRS

In this story from Vietnam you can read about a CRS-supported program for children who are challenged physically. Look at the pictures and you can see such smiles.

These children have mothers who love them, but they face severe restrictions in a society that is not prepared to meet their needs. CRS provides education and training so that children who might otherwise have been tossed aside can instead lead the lives of fulfillment and dignity that God intends for them. This is what a mother would do. This is what the Mother Church does for the least of us.

We also provide support for children when mothers are absent—in responding, for example, to the pandemic of HIV and AIDS that has robbed so many children of their parents. We’re there to ensure that these orphans and vulnerable children, as they are called, do not lose their lives to this deadly virus, and have the support to grow and thrive.

We also work with women at each stage of motherhood, ensuring appropriate prenatal care, safe medical facilities, and help with delivery, and proper nutrition for their children in the crucial first years of life. We know that mothers are the backbone of a successful society, and that supporting them will help the greatest number of people.

As I’ve said, mothers give us our ideal. We pray that our work is always maternal, and never paternalistic. And we do this knowing we are part of the Mother Church that gives us our mission and our inspiration.

Happy Mother’s Day to every mother—and to our Church.

May blessings overflow,

 

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO


Good Life Begins with Good Health

Dear Friend,

Dr. Omeonga Senga, an Ebola survivor and general surgeon at St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital, consultants a young patient and his father prior to surgery. CRS' support has helped St. Joseph's Catholic Hospital reopen, keep health care workers safe and communities healthy. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Dr. Omeonga Senga, an Ebola survivor and general surgeon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital, consultants a young patient and his father prior to surgery. CRS’ support has helped St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital reopen, keep health care workers safe and communities healthy. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

“At least we have our health.”

So many times you hear those words on TV spoken by someone after a natural disaster—a flood, a hurricane, a tornado—often as the person stands next to the ruins of a home. As upset as they are over the loss of their material possessions, they are letting you know that they realize what’s important.

Physical health is one of the cornerstones on which we build our lives, on which we build our societies, our economies. Striving for every one of us to be as healthy as possible—in every country of the world, no matter how poor—is striving for the dignity and hope that God intended for each of us. It is an expression of the respect that we have for life itself.

When we think of health, often we think of doctors and medicine, of treating disease. And that is an important part of what we do at Catholic Relief Services. During the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, we worked with the Church and local governments both to stem the spread of the infection and to treat those suffering from the disease.

As the epidemic abated, we helped reopen St. Joseph’s Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, which had closed when Ebola tragically decimated its staff. It is now functioning at a higher level than ever. We did the same in Haiti after the earthquake there, helping the important Catholic teaching hospital St. François de Sales to rebuild and provide even better medical care and training.

It is this kind of work at CRS that leads us to realize what those people standing next to their destroyed homes understand: health is so much more than caring for the sick, as important as that is. In fact, health is so fundamental that almost everything that we do for the poor around the world addresses it.

In this briefing, you can read about a CRS microfinance program that allows people in Benin villages to pay for health insurance. This is not the kind of health work you might see from some humanitarian organizations—rushing in, treating the sick, then leaving. That certainly helps people, but this is thinking about health in a different way, putting in place a sustainable system that will be foundational to good health in these communities for generations.

The same is true of many of our agriculture programs. We know hunger is not just a matter of having enough to eat. It is having the right kinds of foods to eat—not just calories, but proper nutrients.

So in Africa right now we encourage the planting of staple crops like maize, as well as legumes and other vegetables. These add important variety to diets, and help protect and replenish depleted soil, so plots can continue to provide sustenance for years to come.

Other CRS programs seek to determine the nutrients needed in the first years of life. Good nutrition helps babies and children avoid stunting—a failure to grow and develop properly that will affect their health for the rest of their lives.

And more than just food, many medical historians say that the single most important health advancement in history was the provision of clean water, so many lives were spared by stopping the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera. Look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see how much we rely on functioning water systems in our country.

At CRS, we work around the world to provide people with reliable sources of clean, safe water. In Ethiopia, local water committees ensure that deadly minerals are removed from water pulled from deep wells. In Madagascar, we assisted in the development of a public-private partnership to see that clean water is delivered consistently to poor neighborhoods.

And, of course, the health of thousands is guarded from the scourge of violence by our peacebuilding work going on right now in places like the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

So let us toast, “To your health!” And to the health that God intended for every one of us, wherever we live.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO


Lesotho’s Lenten Lesson

Dear Friends,

Lesotho

Maabisi Phooko, a 71-year-old widow in Lesotho, tends to her keyhole garden, a resilient CRS innovation which she uses to help care for her three orphaned grandchildren.  Photo by Kim Pozniak/CRS

I want to tell you about a small country in southern Africa that you may have never heard of. It’s Lesotho (that’s pronounced li-SOO-too). Encircled entirely by South Africa, Lesotho was isolated during the decades of apartheid.

Its poverty is extreme. More than 40% of its 2 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world at more than 23%. Many of its men left home to work in the mines of South Africa. Gone for months at a time, they often brought the virus back with their paychecks.

And now, on top of these problems, Lesotho faces a devastating drought brought on by El Nino. As CRS Country Representative Rita Billingsley told CBS News a few weeks ago, this is not like the drought in California, where a lack of rainfall might mean you can’t wash your car or water your lawn. This drought means you cannot feed your children.

Lesotho is not alone. Countries throughout southern and East Africa are dealing with the effects of this strong El Nino. The rain it brings can be capricious—coming down hard enough to turn the landscape green, but not with enough consistency to grow nutritious crops.

Just to the north of Lesotho, in Zimbabwe, the situation is similar. “I harvested nothing last year,” says Fortunate Maangla, a mother of four living in the rural countryside of Zimbabwe. “We’ll be dead if somebody doesn’t help us.”

At this point, even if the rains returned, small farmers like Fortunate have no seeds to plant and no money to buy seeds.

During this Lenten season, the stories of people like Fortunate make me realize the privileges we enjoy. We can choose to sacrifice, to be reminded of the suffering that our Lord endured. So many people in so many places around the world do not have that privilege.

We can learn so much from people like these. Despite their hardships, they get up day after day after day, hoping that whatever small meal they can put together will help their families through, and that tomorrow will be better.

This is what Lent reminds us of: that tomorrow will be better. It leads us to the Passion narrative, the darkest moments for our Lord and his followers, ending on the magnificent Easter Sunday when the cry “He is risen!” resounded in Jerusalem. As we know, those words eventually resounded around the entire world, giving us all a message of sacrifice, of redemption and of hope.

Hope is so powerful. In the United States, we can feel it in this season when the earth itself trumpets forth that message, awakening from its winter slumber. It is a triumphant proclamation of hope for the most important, most precious and, indeed, the most miraculous gift from God—the gift of life itself. It is this gift that unites us all, whether we are rich or poor, whether we speak English or Spanish or Urdu, whether our skin is black or white or red or brown or tan or whatever color God makes it. It is the gift that makes us all brethren in the family of God.

CRS RiceBowl 50 TINT and GRADIENT PMS377

CRS RiceBowl is a program of Lenten solidarity and Easter joy for Catholics all across the United States.

So much of what we do during Lent is an affirmation of hope. For all of you who participate in CRS Rice Bowl, every penny put in that bowl, every inexpensive meal you serve, every faith lesson you contemplate, expresses that hope in the redemption Easter will bring.

With your support, we at Catholic Relief Services deliver hope all around the world. Today we are working with the people of Lesotho, Zimbabwe and many other countries affected by El Nino—countries already suffering from climate change—to bring them food, water and better agriculture.

The miracle of redemption happens because we are the hands of the risen Jesus, digging the soil, planting the seeds, giving them water and reaping their bounty. Join with us and harvest the hope of this season.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO


Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

Dear Friend,

Carolyn Woo visits with Iraqi children whose families have been displaced by ISIS. Photo by © Rawsht Twana / Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo visits with Iraqi children whose families have been displaced by ISIS. Photo by  Rawsht Twana/Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

What is the opposite of love?

Most would probably answer “hate.” And certainly that is true in many ways. But I want to propose a different answer—fear.

The scripture tells us this in the fourth chapter of 1 John, verse 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, when we contemplate the basic tenets of our faith, we must consider love and think about what Jesus asks of us when he tells us to love our neighbor as ourself and to love our enemy.

Fundamental to following the path of love is obeying 1 John and acting without fear. As I write this, I see so much fear in the world, fear that all too often drives out love.

Read the rest of this entry »


Make God’s Love Manifest Through Mercy

Dear Friend,

Mercy.

It is such a simple word. We use it all the time. But often I fear we use it in the wrong way, as if it means we are bestowing a favor on someone not really deserving of it. It’s like when we say, “He’s at your mercy.” You have the power. You can give thumbs up or down.

Sister Agnes Wamuyu, General Secretary, Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (ASOK) and Brian Njoroge, 4, in his Nairobi home. Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

Sister Agnes Wamuyu, Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya, and Brian Njoroge, 4, in his Nairobi home. Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS

I am certain that is not what Pope Francis had in mind when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s last month to begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy. So many in our Church through the centuries have come to understand this: Mercy is at the center of our faith, as it is God’s love made manifest in our lives.

Consider the words that the Holy Father used to announce the Jubilee Year: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.”

The mercy of this Jubilee Year does not come from power, it comes from love. It is incumbent upon us in this Jubilee Year to contemplate what that means for each and every one of us. Mercy asks that we bring love—and compassion—to those who need it. Read the rest of this entry »


Coordination of Three Entities Means Better Service for Ugandan Farmers

Volunteer Gertrude Musaindapo (in blue skirt) poses for a photo with MADFA board members after completing her assignment. Photo by Peter M. Kariuki/CRS

Volunteer Gertrude Musaindapo (in blue skirt) poses for a photo with MADFA board members after completing her assignment. Photo by Peter M. Kariuki/CRS

About 3 hours’ drive north of Kampala in Uganda, is Masindi District farmers association (MADFA) a farmer owned organization with over 7,000 members. The organization offers three categories of services to its members, including agricultural extension services, lobbying and advocacy and creating market linkages. As a result of increased growth and membership, MADFA has opened up two new entities including Masindi Seed and Grain Growers, Ltd. (MSSGL) and MADFA Savings and Credits Cooperative. MSSGL provides warehousing, seed cleaning and conditioning as well as milling services to its members whereas the SACCO is responsible for providing credit facilities for the members.

Read the rest of this entry »


Christmas Love Overpowers Worldly Despair and Violence

Dear Friend,

As my family gathered around the Thanksgiving table this year, we were once again surrounded by the power and presence of love, and the multitude of God’s blessings, none greater than the one given to me by my position at Catholic Relief Services—the opportunity to serve the poor overseas. That so many of you generously join with me in this privileged work is always comforting and energizing. I certainly gave thanks for that.

But this year our Thanksgiving table also felt the presence of the recent tragedies in the world—the violence in Beirut, Paris and then Mali, where the CRS offices are only yards away from the targeted hotel. We were thankful that our staff was safe, but were reminded of the risks that CRS personnel take every day in so many countries to help the poor as the Gospel commands. How can you not be thankful to be allowed to work with such wonderful people?

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Technology transfer in macadamia grafting technologies for Kenyan farmers

By Todd Walton

Todd Walton demonstrates macadamia grafting techniques.

Todd Walton demonstrates macadamia grafting techniques. Photo courtesy of Todd Walton, used with permission

Macadamia nuts are grown in Kenya both as a cash crop and foreign exchange earner with Kenya producing about 10 percent of the world’s total production. Macadamia has great potential for poverty reduction due to the high value of its products and its low requirement for external inputs. Although the crop has been grown in the country for over 50 years, the growth of the industry is not commensurate with the demand and market potential that exists. The macadamia industry in Kenya faces several challenges the biggest of which is the lack of quality seedlings due to limited expertise in propagation. Grafted macadamia are more popular due to their fast growth rate and increased production. Macadamias are particularly difficult to graft, and in Kenya there are very few that knowledgeable and experienced in grafting techniques.

logoGood Neighbours’ Community Project has been promoting macadamia nut production in the Western Kenya; using conventionally produced seedlings that are not only poor yielding but which also take up to seven years before they begin producing nuts. It is for this reason that this host organization requested for F2F volunteer assistance in training their members as well as the Ministry of agriculture extension agents. In August 2015, Todd Walton completed a two week assignment. In these two weeks, he trained 40 people. Together with the community, they explored the various factors that contribute to limited graft success such as scion selection, timing of grafting and management of the root stock. He also practically demonstrated various seedling multiplication methods with special emphasis on grafting techniques, while also demonstrating other methods such as air layering. To ensure success of grafted seedlings, he also trained on nursery management.

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