A Tribute to CRS Pioneers Yesterday and Today

Dear Friend,

In 1943, as war raged across Europe, a Polish-American priest from Chicago was dispatched on an urgent mission of mercy.

Thousands upon thousands of bedraggled Polish refugees fleeing Soviet forced-labor camps in Siberia were streaming into Iran, seeking safe haven. The refugees, most of them women and children, along with some elderly men, were ill and emaciated. Many had died on the perilous journey.

The priest, Father Aloysius Wycislo (pronounced Veh-chee-slo), was sent on behalf of the American Catholic community to provide lifesaving aid. He organized temporary centers in Iran to provide immediate assistance, and later oversaw the resettlement of these refugees to East Africa, the Middle East and a small village in north-central Mexico. It was this emergency response that gave birth to the agency that would become Catholic Relief Services. And Father Wycislo, who later became a bishop, was a pioneer in that effort.

More than six decades later, our mission has vastly expanded as we serve the poorest of the poor in more than 100 countries around the world. But assisting refugees and families who have been displaced from their homes by natural disaster or armed conflict remains an important focus for us. Whether providing shelter to people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, helping Iraqi refugees to deal with psychological trauma or providing humanitarian assistance to migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, CRS seeks to help protect the dignity and basic human rights of refugees and migrants.

Sudan is another place where CRS is providing vital assistance to people displaced by years of violence.
Our humanitarian aid, reconstruction and peacebuilding activities support more than 650,000 Sudanese in Darfur, the Khartoum area and throughout the south. Across the border in eastern Chad, CRS also helps to manage three camps that are home to more than 50,000 refugees from Sudan.

I can think of no better exemplar of the pioneering spirit of Aloysius Wycislo and his dedication to the needs of refugees and displaced people than Mark Snyder. Mark led our program in Sudan until his death in late July from complications of malaria. We are still deeply grieving this loss.

Mark spent most of his decade and a half with CRS in Latin America. He joined CRS in November 1993 as a project manager in Peru, and went on to lead our programs in Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua and Peru. Four years ago, Mark took on an especially complex and sensitive assignment in Sudan, which is one of our most challenging operating environments. In recent months, his task grew even more daunting. After several aid agencies were expelled from northern Sudan earlier this year, Mark managed a rapid expansion of CRS assistance in West Darfur to fill the gap. We are now providing lifesaving relief to more than 400,000 people, more than double the number we served previously.

Mark handled the challenges he faced with great skill, grace and a profound sense of hope in the midst of great suffering. That hope shone through in his New Year’s message to all of you: “As we welcome 2009, we share your hope that the world will soon emerge from economic crisis and that we will see more peaceful times. In Sudan, one of our biggest hopes is the attainment of a lasting peace so people in Darfur can return to their villages and people in the south can enjoy the fruits of their tireless efforts to construct a new and peaceful environment.”

Among the hardships of life in the field are diseases that are unknown in the United States. In Africa, malaria is a constant threat. Mark contracted the disease in Sudan and became much sicker while he was on leave in Peru. He died in a Lima hospital on July 29.

During this time of sadness and grief, we ask for your prayers for Mark and his family. And we also ask you to remember the people Mark served with skill, faith and dedication.

Ken Hackett

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3 Responses to “A Tribute to CRS Pioneers Yesterday and Today”

  1. Rose MacSweeney Says:

    For all his good works in South America and in Africa, may Mark Snyder rest in peace. My prayer wheel is turning for Mark and his family.

  2. Jim Scott Says:


    Great work! You have certainly let the Lord work through you.

    I’m new to the Catholic Church. Does CRS carry out missions in US, eg hurricane or other natural disaster relief/rebuilding as in New Orleans and other cities/towns on the Gulf Coast?

    Thanks and God Bless,

  3. Micha Says:

    As the ancient funeral liturgy says “Te Angeli deducant in Paradisum” (may the Angels lead you to Paradise). I know that the LORD will not overlook Mark’s service.

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