May Blessings Overflow

Dear Friend,

Carolyn visits with children from northern Iraq in 2014, part of a population of Iraqis fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

Carolyn visits with children fleeing ISIS in northern Iraq in 2014. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for CRS

It was 5 years ago that we began this conversation, and now, this marks my last letter to you as president of Catholic Relief Services. Thank you for joining CRS to rebuild livelihoods, restore hope and make God’s promises real for many who have lost much. You have given me energy and inspiration to be worthy of our mandate, of the people God entrusts to us for our care. Thank you for making us part of your faith journey.

I have learned so much about myself in my time at CRS. As I have told you, like so many of those we serve, I was an immigrant. I came to this country from Hong Kong to attend college.

While I was raised in relative comfort, there was always uncertainty. My father battled a gambling problem, and as early as the age of 13, I knew we lived on a precarious financial foundation. It was clear I would need to provide for my parents someday. Plus, Hong Kong was going to be turned over to the Chinese by the British. We did not know what the future would bring. My siblings and nanny helped me scrape together enough money to come to the United States for 1 year of college. I did not know then that scholarships and fellowships would take care of the rest, all the way to my Ph.D.

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What Is GIS?

Photo by Carl D. Walsh for CRS

Photo by Carl D. Walsh for CRS

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a system designed to allow the user to interact with geographical data, in order to better manage, learn from and present the available information.  The technology is used by CRS to make our projects more efficient and effective.

The third Wednesday in November (November 16 this year) is recognized by the National Geographic Society as GIS Day. The graphic below demonstrates CRS’ use of GIS to more effectively fulfill our mission of assisting the poor overseas.  The graphic is available as a PDF in English, Spanish, and French.
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Thanksgiving’s Heart of Gratitude

Dear Friend,

In Roche a Bateau, Haiti, where few homes remain standing after Hurricane Matthew, a woman receives food, cooking supplies and a hygiene kit from CRS. Photo by Marie Arago for CRS

In Roche a Bateau, Haiti, where few homes remain standing after Hurricane Matthew, a woman receives food, cooking supplies and a hygiene kit from CRS. Photo by Marie Arago for CRS

As I write this month, thinking about how we will gather as families across our bountiful land to give thanks for all that we have received, my desk and inbox are filled with reports about the hundreds of thousands suffering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew.

When this powerful storm ripped through Haiti’s southwest corner, it devastated a peninsula of fertile land, and many homes could not withstand the winds and storm surge. It was after a similarly destructive storm in 1954, Hurricane Hazel, that Catholic Relief Services first went into Haiti. We have been there ever since, working with the poor through our Church.

And we are there now, in your name, in solidarity with the Haitian people, just as we were in 2010 after an earthquake devastated the capital, Port-au-Prince. The recovery from Hurricane Matthew is just beginning.

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Poverty and Plenty Affect Intelligent Decisions

Dear Friend,

I recently came across a fascinating article in Harvard Magazine. Its title, “The Science of Scarcity,” sums up an emerging topic among behavioral economists, the people who study why we make the economic decisions that we do.

What they find is that when any of us are poor—indeed when we face scarcity of any kind—we tend to make bad decisions. Poverty actually lowers our IQ by limiting what these economists call our “bandwidth.” When we are consumed with the problems of poverty—like where our next meal is coming from—we have less of our brain left over to think clearly in a long term fashion.

Ibrahim Nadashi, 66 years old, participates in a reading and writing class in Ruwawuri, Nigeria. The class is helping people learn these skills so they can earn a living with dignity. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Ibrahim Nadashi, 66 years old, participates in a reading and writing class in Ruwawuri, Nigeria. The class is helping people learn these skills so they can earn a living with dignity. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Did you know that in this country high school students’ SAT scores correlate consistently with only one measurement: household income? The higher the income, the higher the score, and vice versa. Some say this shows that the wealthy can afford test prep tutors. Others say it proves that our capitalist meritocracy works, that the smart are rewarded.

But it’s clear to me that students living in poverty do not score lower because they are inherently less intelligent. They score lower because the stress of poverty robs them of their intelligence. As the article states, people aren’t poor because they sometimes make bad decisions; people sometimes make bad decisions because they are poor.

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CRS Celebrates Canonization of Friend, Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo joins Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, Superior General, Missionaries of Charity, in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo joins Sr. Mary Prema Pierick, Superior General, Missionaries of Charity, in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

On September 4, Blessed Mother Teresa became Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Catholic Relief Services had a long and warm relationship with the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, both as an organization and through personal connections with CRS staff.

Mother Teresa credited CRS with providing early assistance to the Missionaries of Charity before the order was well known. Today, CRS partners with the Missionaries of Charity around the world. For example, in Ethiopia, where the sisters have 18 homes, CRS supports their ministry by providing food, shelter and social services.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services represented the agency in Rome during the canonization of long-time CRS partner Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

“Catholic Relief Services has such close ties to Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity. We share a mission and work closely together to serve some of the world’s most vulnerable brothers and sisters. It was an honor to represent CRS in Rome during the canonization. We are privileged to work toward the vision of a peaceful, just world that Saint Teresa of Calcutta exemplifies,” Woo said.

In honor of the saint, CRS offers this book as a free download. It contains quotes from Saint Teresa of Calcutta as well as other saints.


Getting Refugee Children Back to School

Dear Friend,

Zainab, 10, (L) Ola, 12, (C) and Evine, 12, Syrian refugees from Idlib and Aleppo provinces, attend a science class at the Good Shepherd Sisters Center in Deir al Ahmar, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. The Good Shepherd Sisters are supported by CRS funds. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

Syria refugees, from left, Evine, Ola and Zainab attend a science class at the Good Shepherd Sisters Center in Lebanon. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

There are many things we take for granted—water from our taps, food from the supermarket, a roof over our heads, a doctor to vaccinate our children. Yet these are often out of reach for the people served by Catholic Relief Services.

And there is another precious commodity I want to talk about this month—school.

Every September, as sure as water flows from the faucet, our children and grandchildren gripe as their vacation comes to an end and they must march into the hallways of education once again. But imagine if their school wasn’t there. Imagine if September came and went, and the school doors remained closed to our children.

The refugee crisis gripping our world makes that scenario a reality for so many children today. Millions are fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Some have left their countries. Some have sought refuge within them. I learned so much about their plight this summer—visiting refugees in Lebanon, Greece and Serbia.

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Mother Teresa Inspires Still

Dear Friend,

Monsignor Andrew Landi, who served with CRS for over 35 years, is greeted by Mother Teresa and her charges at one of her welfare centers in Calcutta. Photo by CRS Staff

Monsignor Andrew Landi, who served with CRS for over 35 years, is greeted by Mother Teresa and the children of one of her welfare centers in Calcutta. Photo by CRS Staff

In the 1950s, Monsignor Alfred Schneider, who was director of Catholic Relief Services’ work in India, kept hearing about a nun working in the slums of Calcutta. Father Al, as he was known, was curious about this woman, who was also helping the poor.

One day, while visiting makeshift schools CRS supported there, he noticed children gathered around a nun, chatting cheerfully.

“I went over to find out who she was, and when she looked at me I knew. This had to be Mother Teresa,” Father Al wrote in his memoir My Brother’s Keeper. “Christ was in her face—in her shining eyes, in the lines of patience and laughter around her mouth, in the ineffable glow of love which surrounded her.”

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Super Typhoon Nepartak

CRS is currently monitoring Super Typhoon Nepartak, which is approaching Taiwan and threatens the surrounding region.  We invite you to pray with us and to share the prayer below as we keep those in the storm’s path close to our hearts.

Prayer for the People of Taiwan

We pray for all your sons and daughters in the path of Typhoon Nepartak:
Be with them as the brace for the storm,
and remain with them as it passes.
Open our hearts
that we will respond quickly and generously
to help the people of Taiwan in their time of need.

Amen

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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