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.
Many areas that were hard to reach in the best of times have proven almost impossible to get to after the storm. CRS staff was positioned in cities like Les Cayes during the storm, ready to go to work as soon as it passed. More staff arrived from all over Haiti, and from all over the world, as soon as conditions allowed.
Although the recovery is underway, it will take years to rebuild homes and markets, and to replant farmers’ fields in one of Haiti’s most important agricultural regions. Orchards were flattened, crops and topsoil washed away.
Do such challenges—and the thoughts and prayers that accompany them—in any way detract from planning my Thanksgiving celebration? No, on the contrary, they add depth and resonance to it.
As we gather around the dinner table in late November, it is certainly to give thanks for the harvest that sustains us. But what are we really thankful for? What is it that makes the day so special? We know that it would be special even if we didn’t have a turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes, if we just had a simple meal.
That is, of course, because of our family, the wonder of that intimate community. And that is the real gift from God at Thanksgiving: our family, our ability to love them—and the compassion and empathy, care and concern, joy and celebration that flow from it. Therein lies our humanity, and the spark of divinity that resides within each of God’s children.
Too often we may focus on the sacrifice of helping people living through a natural disaster like Hurricane Matthew, or a man-made one like the civil war in Syria. And this turns acts of charity into a burden that must be borne as we walk along the difficult trail directed by our moral compass.
But do you feel the same way about feeding your family? About sharing the bounty that we celebrate on Thanksgiving with those we love?
Of course you don’t. You do it with joy, gladness and celebration.
God’s Word tells us that people in Haiti, in Syria and around the world are all part of his family—part of our family. When they are in need, we help them—not out of obligation—but gladly, joyfully! This is the special joy that I have felt every day for almost 5 years as president of CRS. It is the joy that all of us at CRS feel, knowing that we are able to touch the lives of so many, just as we touch the lives of our families on Thanksgiving.
So this November, let us give thanks to God not just for the harvest, but also for the great gift that connects us as human beings—happily, gladly, joyfully sharing the bounty of the Earth he created.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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