Miracles of Charity

“Human closeness at these times gives us strength, there is solidarity.”
– Pope Francis, Aug. 18, 2014

Human closeness gives us strength that leads us to solidarity. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on these words from Pope Francis since the Weather Channel monitors began to light up with the approach and landfall of Hurricane Harvey in late August, then the arrival of Hurricane Irma, trailed by the passing of Hurricane Jose, followed by the power and destructive force of Hurricane Maria. Wow! At one point I thought: “This is a disaster nightmare!  How do we process it all?  Where do we even begin to sort out what to tackle first?”

More than 20 million people were affected by one month of hurricanes.  Thousands of families lost loved ones, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and countless individuals lost their income, their jobs, and their livelihoods.  Those who previously lived in poverty were now critically vulnerable, while many who never sought social services before had begun a poverty journey difficult to overcome.

The need was overwhelming, but in the days and weeks following the hurricanes, so too were the miracles I witnessed while supporting agencies in their disaster response, like the clients in Houston who offered and helped to unload the CCUSA Mobile Response Center, filled with much-needed resources, when no other volunteers were available.  These clients set up the distribution site and cared enough to serve each other until everyone received the resources needed. Indeed, in every place that was impacted by the hurricanes, the miracles of charity and generosity were evident.

  • The Diocese of Corpus Christi was “ground zero” for Hurricane Harvey, but the people there didn’t think twice about sharing their resources with the Diocese of Victoria, which had none. They packed up the CCUSA Mobile Response Center vehicle and sent it off to Victoria.  When the truckload of resources arrived, the people were waiting.  A mop, Clorox, food, water, diapers: these basic supplies brought tears to the eyes of those who were left vulnerable.  When the supplies dwindled in less than two hours, neighbors came with more and more goods.  Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, enough supplies arrived to serve hundreds of people during the following hours.
  • Catholic Charities San Antonio organized a convoy of 72 trucks that hauled $4.1 million in relief supplies, which were loaded by 600 volunteers and driven to Catholic Charities of Galveston/Houston. Upon arrival, the contents of the trucks were off-loaded by 300 volunteers.  Staff from Catholic Charities agencies in Albany, Camden, and Gary assisted with every aspect of the disaster services being provided. And in the days that followed, more than 450 CCUSA Annual Gathering attendees from across the country continued to support the disaster work in Houston and Beaumont by operating call centers, canvasing neighborhoods, participating in distribution sites, assisting in food fairs and mucking/gutting homes in the hopes of moving each family one step closer in their recovery process.
  • While activities continued in Texas, Florida began to respond to its own catastrophe following Hurricane Irma. Each of the Florida agencies began to support one another, providing mutual aid assistance and sending disaster supplies to those areas hardest hit.  Catholic Charities staff from Charleston South Carolina packed their bags to provide assistance to Catholic Charities Venice.
  • Hurricane Irma also caused havoc in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. Croix), and Catholic Charities/Caritas Puerto Rico reached across the sea to provide immediate help to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria brought devastation not seen on the islands since the 1920s.  Yet, despite the challenges that occurred in the previous weeks, both Texas and Florida agencies took immediate actions in support of their suffering Catholic Charities family members in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.

This is only the beginning. Disaster recovery services will be required for years to come. We can wait no longer to embrace fully the call of the earth and the poor as one single cry for justice and solidarity. Pope Francis explicitly reminds us that the “deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.” Catholic Charities USA affirms the veracity of this statement, an observable truth that is on display for all to see as both the intensity and the frequency of severe storms ravage our country and bruise and batter its poorest inhabitants. Meaningful investments in community mitigation, improved floodplain management, and increasing access to affordable housing are critical activities that represent tangible opportunities for all persons of goodwill to reduce the risk and exposure of natural disasters and, at the same time, demonstrate our unyielding commitment to justice and a preferential option for the poor.

May these stories inspire us all to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer human closeness that gives strength and leads to solidarity.  Every embrace of comfort, every tear shed with each other, every story of survival shared, every compassionate touch, and every action that provides hope is part of that miracle by which we, as Catholic Charities, have a profound impact as we support one another and provide meaningful and life-changing assistance to the 20 million disaster survivors who are on their road to recovery.

Kim Burgo is Senior Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA. Zach Cahalan, Strategic Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA, contributed to this story.

Going Deeper
Find inspiration in this story of solidarity between parish communities through aid for reconstruction.

7 Ways to Be a Good Steward of the Harvest

“The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.”

— Psalm 67:7

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old, and her daughters harvest fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old,  harvests fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Fall, the season of harvest, is the perfect time to reflect on the Earth’s abundance. Yet, not all people have their share of the abundance God has given us. Approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide.

On October 16, World Food Day 2016 takes these overlapping issues into account with its theme, “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” As the pope reminds us in Laudato Si’, we must recognize our call to respond to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” In observance of World Food Day, we invite you to use the following seven steps in your daily life to become a better steward of Earth’s harvests:

  1. Waste less. Did you know that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost during production or wasted by consumers? When we waste food, we’re discarding food that could have fed our hungry brothers and sisters. Food waste also has a grave environmental impact, as it accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. SaveTheFood.com has tips on how to reduce food waste, including information on proper storage of produce, advice on freezing leftovers and guides for planning meals so you’re sure to eat everything you buy.
  2. Eat simply. It takes 8 times more water to produce 1 pound of beef than to produce 1 pound of soybeans. Eating meat-free, even if only for a couple of days each week, puts less of a strain on Earth’s resources and makes more food and water available for our human family. Check out CRS Rice Bowl’s archive of meatless meal recipes for delicious ways to eat simply!
  3. Support farmers. Buying food locally is not only a great way to support the livelihoods of farmers in your community, but it also reduces your carbon footprint, since your food isn’t being transported great distances to be sold. Find a farmers market near you!
  4. Advocate. U.S. policies impact people worldwide. Let Congress know you care about hunger by lending your voice to support policies that help the most vulnerable.
  5. Donate. CRS is partnering with farmers around the world whose incomes have been jeopardized by the changing environment. These farmers are learning new skills and techniques so that they are still able to generate an income and put food on the table. By supporting CRS, you are supporting these farmers and others who face the effects of natural disaster and hunger.
  6. Learn more. Building awareness about hunger and changing weather patterns is an essential step toward positive change. Take some time to educate yourself and your community on these issues and the many ways that they are connected to each other.
  7. Pray. Prayer helps us to be in right relationship, not only with God and our neighbor, but also with all of creation. Use CRS’ “Live Mercy: Feed the Hungry” small group faith-sharing resource to help your community reflect on this important issue. Or, pray this short prayer before meals to remain mindful of the harvest that we’re called to steward and share.

CRS Helping Hands is a meal-packaging program for Catholic parishes, schools and universities. Learn how to bring CRS Helping Hands to your community!


 

HeadshotRachel Malinowski is a US Operations program officer with Catholic Relief Services, operating out of CRS headquarters in Baltimore.  She works on Helping Hands, among other programs. 

“God is in Nepal”

Robin Contino/CRSI am in the airport after 3 weeks in Nepal.  On the evening of Friday April 24, my family and I celebrated my Mom’s 69th birthday and then were up late making brownies, oatmeal chocolate chip chocolate cookies and tidying the house in preparation for Lulu’s First Holy Communion.  Around midnight my husband and I Skyped with our in-laws in Nepal and had such a wonderful conversation.  They shared how proud they were of me for my work on CRS’s Humanitarian Response Department and how much they also worry.  My mother-in-law said, “Robin, God is always with you as you live your life for others.”  She followed this with a plea for me to find new work so I could be home with my kids.  I woke up at 6 a.m. hearing my husband speaking loudly in Nepali—I knew something was wrong.  He said, “Rob I think you’re going to have to go to Nepal.”  That was it—I knew it was THE earthquake. We went into “contact family and friend” mode. Lulu disappeared and I found her reading quietly in her room.  My heart sunk as it was her big day.  But she said—“Mom, Nepal will be OK because God is in Nepal—we can always see that He is there, and it’s my day to strengthen my relationship with God—He’s there because it’s our home.”

We made it to church a few minutes before the ceremony and wow—it’s where we needed to be.  I don’t have words to explain but my sense of despair dissipated and as I was filled with strength.  We then spent the day at our house with 30-40 people we love—all of our closest family and friends in Baltimore.  It was an amazing party, full of stories, smiles, great food, prayers and memories.  Our Nepali and U.S. families together.

On April 28, I arrived in Nepal, a country I also call home.  I lived there close to 15 years—four of which I worked with Caritas through Catholic Relief Services, and I was grateful I could return to hopefully be of support.  I saw my family and they grabbed me tight—my mother-in-law hugged me and said, “Thank you for coming home to help.”  My husband, who owns an outdoor adventure company in Nepal, arrived about a week ago—and it was amazing to see him for an evening—again much needed strength.  He left at 5:30 am that next morning to support CRS in reaching logistically challenging villages for the next couple of weeks.

I don’t yet have words to describe what I saw or felt.  I, along with everyone else I saw in Nepal, did and are doing everything we can to race against the monsoon rains to ensure people are reached with much needed material and emotional relief.  Anxiety, stress and fear is so overt –and of course it is with over a hundred tremors and a 2nd major earthquake on May 12.   Nepal is and has always been an extraordinary spiritual place.  It’s just a little off balance, and we need to come together to restore that balance.

Catholic Relief Services’ work to help the Nepali people continues. Find out more about assisting their important efforts.

Robin Contino, Technical Advisor in Emergencies for Catholic Relief Services, reflects from the airport on the earthquakes (April 25 and May 12) in Nepal, how her own family was affected, and CRS’ response effort.