May Blessings Overflow

Dear Friend,

Carolyn visits with children from northern Iraq in 2014, part of a population of Iraqis fleeing the onslaught of ISIS. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

Carolyn visits with children fleeing ISIS in northern Iraq in 2014. Photo by Rawsht Twana/Metrography for CRS

It was 5 years ago that we began this conversation, and now, this marks my last letter to you as president of Catholic Relief Services. Thank you for joining CRS to rebuild livelihoods, restore hope and make God’s promises real for many who have lost much. You have given me energy and inspiration to be worthy of our mandate, of the people God entrusts to us for our care. Thank you for making us part of your faith journey.

I have learned so much about myself in my time at CRS. As I have told you, like so many of those we serve, I was an immigrant. I came to this country from Hong Kong to attend college.

While I was raised in relative comfort, there was always uncertainty. My father battled a gambling problem, and as early as the age of 13, I knew we lived on a precarious financial foundation. It was clear I would need to provide for my parents someday. Plus, Hong Kong was going to be turned over to the Chinese by the British. We did not know what the future would bring. My siblings and nanny helped me scrape together enough money to come to the United States for 1 year of college. I did not know then that scholarships and fellowships would take care of the rest, all the way to my Ph.D.

I worked and worked and worked. I worked as if the devil was chasing me. What I came to realize is that so much of my drive was to find the security that eluded me as a child. And I achieved that. As an academic, when you get tenure, you get security. Other promotions and awards reinforced that. It felt good. It felt solid. I had grabbed my brass rings and I kept a tight grip on them.

When I faced the prospect of coming to CRS from Notre Dame, it meant I had to give up tenure, give up my standing in the academic world, give up the security that had been my goal. I can tell you now that I was scared. I can also tell you that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It challenged my family to define what was “enough.” It invited me to trust God. It opened the world to me, and it connected me to a strength that I did not know I have. Most precious, it allowed me to become a part of the works of mercy of the Church.

Carolyn talks with a neighborhood in Tacloban, Philippines, where CRS programs were hard at work helping one of the areas most devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for CRS

Carolyn talks with children in the Philippines in 2014, where CRS programs were hard at work helping communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for CRS

The last 5 years have made me realize the meaning of the phrase “let go and let God.” All over the world, I have met people who taught me this lesson.

Among them was a group of women in Afghanistan who, through a CRS program, started a bakery business. They specialize in butter cookies. CRS provided the oven and enough butter, flour and other ingredients for their first 3 months.

I tasted their cookies. They were to die for! That 3-month inventory sold out in 1 week! One reason: their CRS business training led them to find a market for their product. In this case, that was the local police, who loved their cookies too.

The leader of the project was nursing a baby. I asked her how many children she had. This was her only one. “I had another one,” she told me, “but he died of malnutrition because I didn’t have enough milk.”

Such moments made me realize that the security I always sought was an illusion. That woman did not have much security. But because of the bakery, she had a better life.

None of us ever knows what tomorrow will bring. That is in God’s hands. We can only work to try to make tomorrow better than today—for ourselves, for our loved ones, for everyone in God’s family, wherever they live.

That is what we try to do at CRS. We cannot wave a magic wand and reconstruct Haiti after its earthquake, after Hurricane Matthew. We cannot make fields in Ethiopia suddenly fertile in the midst of years of drought. But we can become the hands of God, at work to make their tomorrow better than today.

My time at CRS has made me change my daily prayer. I used to say, “Oh God, please help me in my work.” Then one day I realized, “Well, this is not really my work. God, this is your work, and I’m just given the privilege to be a part of it.” Since then, my prayer has been, “God, please lead us, guide us and sustain us for your purpose.”

It is a time of great uncertainty for many of us. Yet, I am certain about the presence of God in this world, even in dark hours and places, and particularly amidst people in profound suffering. He walks among us telling us not to be afraid, inviting us to venture beyond our little boxes, helping us laugh, prying open our hearts, and giving us the gift of one other, as partners in his work.

Carolyn stops to pray while visiting the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, where CRS programs were set up to assist Syrian refugees with disabilities. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

Carolyn stops to pray while visiting the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, where CRS programs were set up to assist Syrian refugees with disabilities. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

I am excited about the future leadership of my successor Sean Callahan and of everyone at CRS putting the people they serve before themselves. And for the CRS boards and all of you—our supporters—you have been the family to whom I have turned for help and engagement, the family with whom I am on this journey as the people of God back to God.

As for my future, I look forward to spending more time with my husband and loved ones. Most of all, for a person whose academic discipline, profession and modus operandi focus on planning, I am now eager to make God the plan.

You will be in my prayers, and I hope you will keep me in yours.

May blessings overflow,

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO


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14 Responses to “May Blessings Overflow”

  1. MARY Flaherty Says:

    I loved hearing about yourself. I had no idea about your life!
    God Bless you for your 5 years at CRS.

  2. Fr. Luz C. Flores Says:

    Dr. Carolyn,

    Thank you very much for your untiring service for the poor. I was once a beneficiary of the CRS program back in the early 1980’s in the remote and critical areas in Agusan del Norte, Mindanao, Philippines. CRS helped my barrio chapels in the hinterland in constructing deep wells for potable water for our people. People don’t easily forget the kindness they received from generous people like you.
    God bless you on your next adventure in the Lord.

    Fr. Luz C. Flores
    Pastoral Director
    Holy Spirit Retreat Center
    10980 Hillside Drive
    Anchorage, Alaska 99507

  3. Mary White Says:

    Your help in the Haiti Earthquake, called me to be a donor. So proud that you were the first gropup that I saw there. Thank you! Blessings for your future endeavors!!!

  4. Anthony Pigneri Says:

    Hello, Carolyn,

    Thanks for sharing your history, feelings and responses to life – I’m inspired. Thanks for your service through CRS, better connecting us with those in need. May God continue to bless you, your family and CRS as you journey closer to Him in coming life stages.

  5. Mary A. McKenna Says:

    Thank you for your leadership of this important agency. May you experience abundant blessings on you and your family in return for your care for God!s needy people.

  6. Fr. Stephen Deaver Says:

    Thank you Carolyn for the five years you have given to Catholic Relief Services and for the story of your life. It helps me to understand how hard you have worked, your energy, and the expertise you have given to CRS.
    I have been a supporter of CRS for many years and have been proud, as a Catholic priest to claim CRS as the most efficient organization of its kind in the world. You have helped it to obtain and hold that record.

    Fr. Stephen Deaver
    615 W. 42nd St.
    Scottsbluff, NE 69361

  7. Patricia LaPlante Says:

    God bless you for your service for the poor through the Catholic Relief Services and God bless you always.

  8. Sue Dondelewski Says:

    Dr. Carolyn,

    I have followed CRS for many years and your wonderful contribution to this amazing service will never be forgotten. May God bless you in your future endeavors! Your endurance has encouraged me to be a contributor to CRS!!

  9. Dorothy Dasovich Says:

    Dr.Carolyn, I will miss you and wish you well. Your messages have been a bright spot on my computer. Thank you,and may God continue to bless you. Dorothy Dasovich

  10. Andrea Simpson Says:

    Thank you for your service Dr. Woo. I have enjoyed reading your posts and letters. I had enjoyed your predecessor’s posts, and when you took over I thought “oh I bet I won’t like hers as well.” But I did! They were different than before but equally inspiring. I have appreciated your help not only for all those in true need, aided by CRS, but in my own journey. I enjoyed hearing about your life in this last letter and wish you the very best.


  11. Sister Ruth Battaglia CSA Says:

    I have admired you and the work you have done for CRS. Blessings on your future.

  12. Matt Says:

    Thanks for you leadership, commitment, and for sharing your inspirational personal story.
    Good luck for what lies ahead and may God continue to bless you.

  13. Frank Kyahurwa Says:

    thank you for the work you have done to the needy community.God bless you.Its him who choose you to come and save his people we shall miss you.I wish you best in your new career.
    Frank Kyahurwa

  14. Janey Slusher Says:

    Dr. Woo, I was introduced to you when you gave the commencement speech for our grandson’s 2012 graduation from Notre Dame. Your words inspired me to become a donor to CRS. You were a fantastic educator and leader and it was an honor to just be there to hear your words. Best wishes for the next step in your life. May God bless you again and again.

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