There was an exciting gathering at Catholic Relief Services’ headquarters recently. It came as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was having its annual meeting just blocks away. As many of you know, Archbishop Timothy Dolan was elected president of the USCCB. As he said afterwards, his only regret in taking on that post was that he would have to step down as chairman of the CRS board.
But when one door closes another one opens, and Cardinal Francis George, in his last act as USCCB president, appointed Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas as the new CRS board chairman. Archbishop Dolan had long planned to stop by CRS headquarters while in Baltimore for the USCCB meeting. He kept that appointment, walking in with Bishop Kicanas to a standing ovation from hundreds of CRS employees and several of our board members. Many more were listening in from our offices around the world. It was a great moment, a feeling of warmth that just grew as Archbishop Dolan and Bishop Kicanas spoke.
All of us at CRS are of course sorry to see Archbishop Dolan leave his post on our board. In his three years as chairman, he has been a tireless advocate for the world’s poor and the work that CRS does on their behalf. When he moved from Milwaukee to New York, Archbishop Dolan insisted on remaining CRS’ chairman and his increased visibility helped raise our profile even as it reconnected us with our roots—CRS was headquartered in New York from our founding in 1943 until we moved to Baltimore in 1989. We will forever be in Archbishop Dolan’s debt and are pleased to have someone so familiar with CRS’ work as president of the USCCB.
But we are also very excited to welcome Bishop Kicanas of Tucson as our chairman. He and CRS are well acquainted. He has traveled to CRS projects in Lebanon, Nepal, Vietnam and the Holy Land. When CRS ran a program for immigrants on the Mexican border, it was housed in the bishop’s offices in Tucson. If you want to see how in tune Bishop Kicanas is with the CRS mission, take a look at the coat of arms he designed when he became Bishop of Tucson. It gives tribute to his ancestral home of Lebanon as well as the Native American cultures of Arizona. And its motto—in English and Spanish—is taken from Isaiah: “Justice Begets Peace.”
At CRS, when we try to figure out how to build peace in the too-often strife-torn communities where we work, we speak of looking through the “justice lens.” We are so grateful to have as our leader someone who understands how fundamental this is to doing God’s work, how rooted it is in scripture.
Let me give you one other piece of news. It’s about Sister Beatrice Chipeta, a Rosarian nun, who saw the enormous toll taken by the HIV pandemic as it swept across Malawi in the mid 1990s. Though retired after a teaching career, Sister Beatrice began talking to people in villages about what could be done to help children orphaned by HIV. With her guidance, these villages discovered their own resourcefulness and strength and started a series of projects to care for the children. Last month, Sister Beatrice was named co-recipient of the Opus Award, an annual $1 million grant to a faith-based humanitarian. We are inspired by the work of this CRS partner.
When the people she worked with in Malawi were deciding what to call Sister Beatrice’s project, one man suggested lusubilo, the local word for “hope”— “Because that is what this project has given these children,” he said. So the Lusubilo Orphan Care project was born.
Hope is the right word for this season. There is the hope that comes with new leadership. The hope that people like Sister Beatrice and so many like her bring to the poor and vulnerable. And most of all, the hope that the birth of Jesus Christ brought, and still brings, to the world.
That hope comes because people are faithful to their mission, often through hard times.
Thank you for your continued support and your prayers, which bring us hope every day.
We wish you a joyous Christmas season.
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