As I write this, it has been a little more than 6 months since I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as president of Catholic Relief Services. These months have gone by in a whirlwind. It seems like only yesterday I was packing up my office at the University of Notre Dame. So much has happened in this half year that I hardly have time to look back.
Since taking my new post at CRS, I have been climbing a steep learning curve. I thought I knew a great deal about the agency from my years on the board of directors, but there is more to learn than I ever imagined—something new every day. Because of your support, we are involved in every aspect of the lives of those around the world who live in poverty, who are affected by disaster and unimaginable hardship. It is a complex operation seeking a simple goal: to live in solidarity with poor women, men and children as we help them help themselves.
One thing I have learned is that whatever people need—whether it is food or water, sanitation, better agricultural practices, education or medical services—the service we deliver is of little help without the basic gift that Christ bestowed on all of us: peace.
There are so many ways that conflicts—whether full-scale wars between countries or low-level tensions in communities—can undermine the best efforts at easing poverty. That’s why, as I have learned, peacebuilding is fundamental to all that CRS does.
You can see it in our relationship with local partners: We ensure that everyone in every community where we work has a say in that work. Frankly, there are times we could get the job done faster if we just came in and implemented the programs we had designed. But we would make so many mistakes if we did it that way. For instance, we might not realize that we were doing our work on top of a social or political fault line through that community—one that would fracture and take all of our efforts with it. So our constant consultation with local partners and beneficiaries is fundamental to peacebuilding.
A year ago, my predecessor as CRS president, Ken Hackett, was in Juba as it became the official capital of the newest nation on earth, South Sudan. Ken was invited to join the official U.S. delegation to the ceremonies, an honor that was in recognition of the crucial role that CRS, with your support, played in the peaceful transition of that country. Although millions had died in decades of fighting, the referendum on the secession of the south came off peacefully, as did the actual independence 6 months later.
As you know, some problems have emerged in that part of the world. This does not mean we should give up. It means we must renew our efforts—and we are doing just that. The problems, although regrettable, are hardly surprising. Few countries—including ours—are born without such difficulties. But South Sudan’s progress will be built on a foundation of peace.
You are helping to build that foundation as CRS works with the Church to bring together people in conflict, particularly by engaging young people. In the state of Jonglei, we are supporting the Sudan Council of Churches as it seeks peace between the Lou Nuer and the Murle groups. You are also helping South Sudan to develop the ability to respond to such problems.
CRS is working with the government’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission to implement the Conflict Early Warning and Early Response System in states across the South Sudan. CEWERS is designed to anticipate and identify violent conflict at an early stage of development, and then address it at a local level before it escalates.
These are only a few of our many efforts to help the people of South Sudan. We ask that you continue to keep the people of this new nation in your thoughts and prayers.
Let us all join together, in the name of the Prince of Peace, in building the foundation of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and in countries around the world where conflict holds too many in its grasp.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
Related story: Read about Carolyn Woo’s first advocacy visit to Capitol Hill.
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