In a few weeks, I will celebrate my last Christmas as an employee of Catholic Relief Services. As you know, I am retiring as president on December 31 and am handing over the post to Carolyn Y. Woo. Starting next month, Carolyn will be writing these letters to you.
Almost 40 Christmases have passed during my time here at CRS. Coming up to the last one certainly brings back some memories.
Many of those Christmases were not at all like the ones I had growing up in Boston. It’s not cold or snowy in Sierra Leone in December. You don’t pull a scarf around your neck or smell roasting chestnuts as Christmas approaches in Manila. And reindeer seem a bit out of place in Nairobi—wildebeest maybe, but not reindeer.
I remember the Christmases when duty called, like the one when I tried to get a desperately ill CRS worker out of Togo so she could get better medical care.
And none of us who were with CRS in 2004 will ever forget the abrupt ending to our family gatherings and celebrations when the tsunami struck a huge area of the Pacific basin on December 26.
Even when we are back in the Northern Hemisphere in the midst of our family and friends, we are always reminded that CRS’ work does not stop for any holiday, religious or otherwise.
Another lesson learned was that, wherever we went, however far from sleigh bells and mistletoe, we still found Christmas. We were always reminded of the universal reach of our Church—that the good news of Christ’s birth is celebrated throughout the world. And we found that an essential part of the good news is that it leads us to help each other, our neighbors around the corner and around the globe.
I am so excited about Carolyn’s taking over this position. I have known her for years since inviting her to join our board in 2004 as one of its first lay members. She is such a fine person, and I can’t wait to see the vision and energy she will bring to the agency.
But both Carolyn and I know that CRS is not about one person. And it’s not just about the thousands who work for CRS around the world. It’s also about the thousands of local partners we have in nearly 100 countries, people we work with every day to bring care and hope. It’s about the hundreds of thousands in the United States who hear the good news and use us to help carry it out. And it’s about the millions who benefit from our work, who so often give us so much more than we could ever give them.
We are all part of CRS, whether you are putting a quarter in an Operation Rice Bowl box or a few shillings, kwacha or pesos in a savings program CRS sponsors. Whether you are drinking water from a well that CRS helped build or getting together with your fellow students on a college campus to raise awareness of the world’s needs. Whether you are in a new house in Haiti that you and CRS built or are getting in touch with your representatives in Congress to ensure that the poorest people in the world continue to receive aid from the richest of the world’s nations.
So, this is not the last Christmas I will celebrate with CRS. Like you, I know that I will be a part of the CRS family for as long as I live. It will always be in my life, as all of you will always be in my heart.
The greatest Christmas gifts I have received over the past 4 decades are these: getting to work with you, getting to know so many of you and being able to serve you, and your desire to help those who need it the most.
Thank you so much for all you have given me over the years.
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