Letter From the CRS President

As I write this, alarm bells are ringing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With more than 80 people killed in recent violence there, and more than 3,000 Congolese refugees in neighboring Rwanda, the situation is extremely volatile. Tensions have increased between the Congolese government and that of Rwanda. I am very concerned that this conflict will erupt into a humanitarian crisis. We urge all parties in the conflict to honor their previous peace agreements, and the international community to call an end to the insurgency and the violence against innocent civilians.

The reports from our CRS staff coming out of Haiti and the Dominican Republic after the recent catastrophic floods and mudslides are astonishing. Even while the flood waters recede, I am left to wonder how much the human spirit can bear, and reminded once again that our work must not only focus on one's physical needs, but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. I recall seeing similar devastation while I was in the Philippines many years ago. I witnessed firsthand the destructive force of floods and mudslides. Within a few horrifying minutes, people lost their entire families. The survivors walk in a stunned stupor, unable to comprehend what happened. In the blink of an eye their lives were changed, their loved ones and all they have owned lost forever.

It is during these moments that our work has its most critical impact. Today the Caribbean island of Hispaniola is filled with thousands of courageous, but very vulnerable survivors. Many people lost a relative in this disaster, and now they are dealing with this tremendous loss, while still struggling to survive. Most have not eaten for days, because they are isolated by water and mud, accessible only by helicopter.

CRS and our partners were among the first to come to their aid with food and supplies, pledging $220,000 in emergency funds. We remain steadfast in our mission to relieve their suffering. I ask you to help us stabilize this fragile region, while also praying for their physical and their spiritual health.

In the words of Pope John Paul II in his prayers for those who have died and those left homeless, he asked God to “inspire feelings of Christian solidarity in all those who could collaborate to remedy the tragic effects of this natural disaster.” As a global community here at CRS, we are empowered, even called, to help Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

My thoughts this month are also in Sudan, where the tragedy is a man-made disaster, rather than a natural one. It is estimated that more than a million people in the western Darfur region of Sudan have been driven from their homes. Almost 200,000 refugees have migrated into Chad. These events have been described as “the world's worst humanitarian crisis.” For the sake of those who have found shelter in our refugee camps, and those still wandering in search of peace, we urge a spirit of cooperation among the United States government, the United Nations, and other non-governmental agencies. The situation there is urgent, the spirit of these refugees fragile. Again, I ask for your generosity, and for your prayers for the survivors of this great tragedy.

Our prayers are, indeed, acknowledged, and bear fruit as proven by our progress in war-torn Afghanistan. Here, CRS is providing classrooms and establishing curricula to help students catch up to their grade level because of the time they lost while living in refugee camps. The children here are happy and enthusiastic. We are also working to raise the literacy rate among women, and helping them support their families through small income producing ventures. Together, we can indeed make a difference.

I am also pleased to commemorate our 50th year of service in Pakistan. Among our projects is a program to support working children's right to an education. In Pakistan, too often, child labor is the rule, not the exception. Children between the ages of 3 and 14 routinely work 7 to 9 hour days, and are denied access to a classroom. With our partners, we are establishing schools for children who must work, and focused on improving the working conditions where they do work. CRS has also made great strides working with the National Development and Research Foundation to promote peace and tolerance in Madaris schools in Pakistan. This grassroots initiative is the key to breaking down rigid barriers that often cause suspicion, hatred, and violence among different religious groups. By engaging Islamic scholars and intellectuals, our goal is to encourage curriculum reform in their schools.

Please keep the alarming situation in the Congo, and the children of Pakistan in your prayers, along with the refugees in Sudan-Chad, and the tempest tossed survivors in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is through your continued generosity that we here at CRS can assuage the immediate physical needs of these victims, while at the same time, inspire hope and renewed human spirit. On their behalf, I thank you for the bounty of your compassion.

Kenneth F. Hackett

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