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
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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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.
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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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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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.
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
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 »
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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