Letter From the CRS President

Dear Friend,

In this Easter season, the mystery of new life in the resurrection is ever present.

Pope John Paul II has gone home to his Father, completing his historic and valiant work among us. In the Pope's love for the poor, advocacy for social justice and support for the mission of Catholic Relief Services, we could not have had a greater friend.

I fondly remember Pope John Paul's 1995 visit to Baltimore. The short, but personal opportunity for a small number of CRS supporters to meet the Holy Father is a moment I will treasure always. The words in his message to CRS that day, continue to inspire us.

This Easter season also calls to mind the suffering, as well as the resilience, of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Easter Sunday I attended a Mass that was one of the most moving and most spiritual I have ever experienced.

I was one of about 250 people who had gathered in the only Catholic Church in Aceh Province, a region on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra Island that was one of the hardest hit by the December 26 tsunami. We listened as a choir, which had traveled 13 hours by bus, sang hymns in Bahasa, Achenese, English and Latin. As they sang, verses of the songs were shown on a screen overlying pictures of tsunami victims.

The next day, I had another extraordinary experience – one of my most terrifying.

After a long and emotional day visiting the Catholic Relief Services emergency and recovery programs in Meulaboh, south of Banda Aceh, our delegation – including Bishop Robert Lynch, chairman of the CRS board of directors, and Dr. Carolyn Woo, a CRS board member – took a short flight to the city of Medan. We had retired for the night when a powerful earthquake struck. Our hotel felt like it was rolling like a plane in a thunderstorm. The power went out and we evacuated in the dark, linking our arms as we descended six flights of stairs.

In two short moments, I experienced how far we've come since the December tsunami, and how far we still have to go. The spirit I felt in that church was a sign of how determined people are to carry on with life. But the panic we felt the next day, and the panic felt by the thousands living in tsunami-ravaged coastal areas who fled in terror to higher ground, shows us how far we still have to go. The psychological trauma of December 26 is still very present among survivors of the tsunami, and the recent earthquake was a vivid reminder of just how vulnerable they remain.

Because of your incredible generosity, we have taken in more than $131 million in donations for tsunami relief at CRS. We have pledged at least $150 million to the region over the long term, confident that we'll meet that mark with your continued support.

I'd like to share with you some of what we've done with your money, and a bit about what we will do over the coming months and years.

Our work has been concentrated in the hardest hit communities in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, our staff worked on meeting basic needs for food and clean water, temporary shelter, removal of debris and bodies, and addressing health issues. We have been working with government, local church and humanitarian organizations, as well as other international relief agencies. Our local partners are helping us to identify priorities.

We have also focused on dealing with the trauma caused by witnessing the horrors of the tsunami: seeing family members, friends and neighbors being swept away by the wall of water; seeing homes and neighborhoods destroyed. A CRS volunteer, Dr. Michael Finegan, who is the chief psychologist for the Maryland State Police, traveled to Galle in Sri Lanka, where he trained health care workers, teachers and community leaders in identifying and treating the symptoms of trauma. CRS also distributed coloring books and crayons to 35,000 children in an effort to help them express their grief and their sense of loss through art.

To address the long-term needs of these communities, CRS has developed five-year plans for Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. These programs focus on rebuilding homes, schools, clinics and community buildings; helping people to reestablish their livelihoods so they can become self supporting; equipping communities in disaster preparedness, so they can deal with phenomena like tsunamis and earthquakes; improving sanitation and health services; and continued efforts to address the effects of trauma. The basic thrust of our long-term commitment to the people in this region is to provide them with the tools and structures they need to rebuild their own lives and become self-sufficient again. For more details about the countries we are working in, please click here.

With your help, we are bringing hope to the frightened, but resilient people who are beginning to rebuild their lives and their communities.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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