Mark Melia: Hi everyone, and welcome to this CRS podcast, Cast Out to the Deep. My name is Mark Melia and I’m the executive vice president of Charitable Giving. I’m pleased to introduce our hosts–Mary Jane and Glenn Creamer. Mary Jane is currently serving as treasurer on the CRS Board of Directors and Glenn is chair of our Foundation Board. Glenn and Mary Jane have been wonderful partners in helping CRS go far in taking our work to scale. Mary Jane and Glenn are co-chairs of our Go FAR Campaign for Catholic Relief Services. You may be wondering what we are talking about when we say Go FAR campaign.
In our new agency strategy, called Vision 2030, we aspire to be more ambitious and bold in advancing our vision of a world in which all people—with a preferential option for people who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized—have opportunities to fulfill their human potential. Through Vision 2030, CRS has identified priority outcomes that best align with our mission and expertise. To bring this vision to life, CRS is undertaking a bold groundbreaking campaign that seeks to raise $275 million to drive our impact like never before. Called The Go FAR Campaign for Catholic Relief Services, we hope to bring together our closest donors and partners, and the people we serve to create transformational change for good. So thank you for your leadership, Glenn and Mary Jane. We really appreciate it.
Mary Jane Creamer: Thank you, Mark, and welcome everyone to this webinar, which we are calling Cast Out to the Deep. We’re privileged to host—we strongly believe in CRS’s mission and CRS’s work. If you care about the poor around the world, if you care about the those who are most in need, if you care about development in challenging countries and if you care about refugees, CRS is the place to be.
Glenn Creamer: We’d like to introduce our speakers for today’s conversation. His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, will be joining us. He is the honorary chairman of the CRS Go Far campaign. He also was chairman of CRS, so he knows Catholic Relief Services extremely well. In addition, we have Sean Callahan, our president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. Mark Melia, who you’ve just heard from at the beginning of the call. Mark is executive vice president of Development, Charitable Giving for CRS and he’ll be the moderator for our call. And Haydee Diaz who is the head of programming for CRS Uganda.
Mary Jane Creamer: Sean, would you like to get us started with some thoughts while we wait for the Cardinal?
Sean Callahan: Thank you, Mary Jane. Catholic Relief Services, like other aspects of the Church, never closed down during the COVID crisis and continued to reach out to those most in need around the world. We have been blessed that we have teams on the ground. We have responded by putting in COVID protocols. Our programs would provide food security packets to families for a month period of time so that they still have the nutrition for the young students when they weren’t going to school.
We’ve also been providing assistance for agricultural development because, as many of you may have heard, there’s a very big threat of famine in Africa now. And we wanted to make sure that those whom we could reach out to have the opportunity to plant so that they could also have a harvest coming up in this year and wouldn’t be as affected by the shutdown.
When we talk about CRS, what many people don’t realize is that as a Catholic organization, we have a natural world-wide network of local partners and we have the capacity to reach out to people of other faiths globally. We have top-notch professionals and faith-filled staff that is known and trusted by local communities. And trust is the most important trait in these situations, where we’re looking to change behaviors. And we have a stewardship model that is second to none because of our local network, which results in one of the lowest overhead rates and, quite frankly, better bang for the buck. So we work with local partners, local Church institutions so that the people on the ground are implementing our programs. We as an organization have a philosophy of being bold yet humble, in the spirit of the Holy Father Pope Francis, and Mother Teresa. The Go Far campaign challenges us, as does Pope Francis, to be bold in reaching out to our sisters and brothers, yet humble in our attitude. I remember when I first met Mother Teresa in Calcutta and I thanked her for the great work she and her congregation were doing. The first thing she said to me was, “Shhh, don’t spoil it. We are truly lucky to do God’s work. This is the Gospel.”
What most people don’t realize is how far the Church’s efforts go in the countries in which it reaches. And CRS is the number one faith-based recipient of U.S. government funding and the second non-governmental organization overall to receive U.S. government funds. We’re also the number two recipient of food assistance globally from the U.S. government and we have been for decades. We’re also one of the top recipients of malaria funding from The Global Fund and we receive support from foundations like the Gates Foundation, Buffet Foundation, the United Nations. And the reason we do is because we deliver on what we say.
At times I think we’ve been too successful at being humble, and many people don’t realize what their Church, through CRS, is doing to respond to these global crises. We appreciate you joining us today so you can hear a little bit about some of the responses that we have to the global crises facing communities today. Let me pass it back to the Cardinal.
I started off with a little bit of a presentation on what we’re doing at CRS but we’d be very pleased if you might kick us off with a prayer.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: I’d be honored Sean. Thank you, everybody. It’s a joy to be with you, Glenn and Mary Jane, Sean, excellent staff and so many interested partners. Thank you. We need you very much. It’s a distinct privilege to serve as one of the leaders in our Go Far campaign. So let’s pray because we’re people of faith. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We thank you for the gift that Catholic Relief Services is. We thank you for the summons to assist them with our prayers, our interest and, yes, our support. And we take comfort from the words of Jesus, ”cast out to the deep.” We’re not going to stand on the shore, dear Jesus. We’re not going to tread water. We’re going to swim laps. We’re going to cast out to the deep, as you charged your apostles, where the catch is great. You are Christ our Lord. Amen. In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sean Callahan: Thank you, Cardinal Dolan.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: You’re welcome.
Sean Callahan: I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce one of my colleagues from Uganda, Haydee Diaz, who can tell you in her own words how we are doing and just what Cardinal Dolan spoke about. Take it away, Haydee.
Haydee Diaz: Thank you, Sean. Thank you so much for this opportunity to share with you my passion for our work at CRS but also represent my over 7000 colleagues all over the world. I first joined CRS about five years ago. I was already a seasoned professional—had over 20 years’ experience. I was leading a large crime and violence prevention program, and I got to know CRS because in Latin America, CRS is really well known for effective and innovative youth work to prevent crime violence in very difficult communities. As I worked with CRS, the one thing that really struck me were the CRS staff, how they were really fueled. They were powered. There was this special calling and it was really the calling of love of neighbor.
We are there with them to show them that hope and to show them the love and to show them that together we can create a new life for them, even in the most difficult times, of love and dignity. And so, it is this love for our brothers and sisters in Christ that I think really fuels our work across the world.
And maybe, Sean, if I might, I wanted to share a story. Zaituna and her family, her children, had been threatened in the civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She’d even lost some family members to the fighting. And so her family decided that it was time to seek refuge in Uganda. She was really concerned for her children’s life. And she started a very long trek across the border from the Congo into Uganda. You have to cross a very big lake, several rivers, a forest, and in this experience, Zaituna and her family actually got separated.
So here is this mother who spent two months walking to try to reunite her family and to find where her older children, who had been separated, were in Uganda. And she finally did. She ended up at the Kyangwali refugee settlement where she was able to be reunited with her family. Sometimes we think that, well, okay, she made it to safety. Things must be good. And while she did make it to safety and things are better, it’s important to know that in the refugee settlement, all refugees receive in terms of shelter is a tent. The rains would come and Zaituna and her family would wake up in the middle of the night with their mattresses just soaked with water, the few possessions they had floating away. And so CRS, one of the things we do to help refugees construct a new life, and to really have a home, a place of safety and dignity, is we work with refugees to build homes.
They’re two room homes. They have a really strong durable roof. They have doors and windows and it’s a place of safety and a place of privacy. And it allows refugees like Zaituna and her family to really be able to construct a new life and to have hope. To know that organizations like CRS, that the American Catholic Church in particular, is working there with them, hand-in-hand to build a new future. The settlement is now under a lockdown and many of the organizations that were providing services there, they’ve left. But CRS is still there. We built schools, we built homes, and we’re not going to leave. We, of course, are doing all our work with very strict measures to prevent COVID-19, but we are there everyday hand-in-hand with the refugees, mothers and fathers and children. Where they can have a safe home. Where their child can have schools to learn.
Sean Callahan: Thank you Haydee, what a powerful story. It reminds me of my visit to Uganda in 2017, when I met Paskalina Awarte. She fled from South Sudan with her daughter and three grandchildren. And I met her in the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Northern Uganda, one of the world’s largest settlements. Talk about casting out to the deep. When I first met Paskalina, she was desperate and frightened. She had traveled through the jungle with her daughter and grandchildren because her sons had been killed in the violence of South Sudan and she didn’t know how she would care for her daughters or her grandchildren or earn a living. I could see the hopelessness and emptiness in her eyes. She was exhausted. We talked for a while and she was placed on a list for a humble home. But when I returned a year later, she was a different woman. She proudly showed me her home made of mud and sticks, her vegetable garden, and she said her grandchildren were now going to school. I now saw in her eyes hope and in her smile a new life.
This is the type of transformation we see with the people that we work with throughout the world, and Paskalina was just a very, very poignant example. I know that Mary Jane and Glenn also had the opportunity last year to go to Uganda. Did you get to see some of the same things that we saw there, Glenn and Mary Jane?
Mary Jane Creamer: Yes, we did. We were in Uganda last fall and we saw CRS’s programming in action and we visited two refugee settlements. One of the things that Glenn and I did was we presented keys to new homes to refugees. The other thing that we did is we visited a school, where we were absolutely surrounded by children, and one of the things that I’ll always remember about Uganda was the children. Africa is such a young continent and with so much potential and there were kids everywhere we went. They would wave at us as we drove down the street.
Glenn Creamer: So it was really amazing to be with these young people in this refugee camp at this school. If you can imagine, this school we were at had over 5000 children and nine classrooms. CRS decided to build 18 additional classrooms at this school. Today, all of those 18 classrooms are completed and they are ready for the students when they are able to come back to school once the COVID restrictions are limited. We also built 10 bathrooms for boys, 10 bathrooms for girls, 4 bathrooms for the teachers—all of these with water taps for hand washing and hygiene. And so thanks to this project, 5,294 refugee children now have a much, much better place in which to study and which to learn. So I was really, really thrilled to see what CRS is doing in Uganda to make a difference for refugee children.
Mary Jane Creamer: CRS really has the best team. We have incredible skills, we have capabilities, we have partnerships in 114 countries, and we have, importantly, our Catholic values, which we bring to everything that we do. When we think about casting out to the deep, we think about people who can fish, we think about people have the nets, and CRS can fish and we have the nets and we’re ready to cast out into the deep.
Haydee Diaz: Mary Jane, if I could add to that, as somebody who works directly in the field this image of the fisherman casting out, very deep, is something that really speaks to me. As CRS staff, we often times are the only organization that are going into the most remote communities. We have this incredible blessing of being part of the global Catholic Church. And so everywhere, even in tiny, little villages in far flung corners of Uganda, the Catholic Church is there and that means that we as CRS can be there.
Sean Callahan: Thank you, Haydee. Cardinal Dolan, you were the board chair of CRS from 2007 to 2010 and I had the opportunity of traveling with you to Ethiopia, and I happened to be in Haiti when you arrived to demonstrate the solidarity of the American Church after that devastating earthquake that hit Haiti. Could you tell us about some of the people that you have met during your travels?
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: Well, I’d be thrilled to Sean. Thanks for asking. There’s no way to more enthusiastically appreciate the work of Catholic Relief Services than to travel. You mentioned two places, Sean, but boy do I ever remember Ethiopia, where they had asked me and the people that were with us, yourself included, to bless a newly installed well.
So off we go, and I can remember it was a rough ride. But as we got close to the village where the well was going to be blessed, the people lined the road and we could see pipes, it was more like fire hoses along the side of the road. And finally we got to the well that Catholic Relief Services had installed. And I said a simple prayer blessing. And then I had the honor of actually clicking the electric switch. It took a while—two, three, four minutes—we could hear the bubbling and the gurgling and the water coming up.
The people are just crying with joy. It was so moving, and two things stick with me, Sean. For one, you and I went over to meet some of the young girls. And they told us, through their translators, that now, because of the well, they’d be able to go to school.
And I said, well why weren’t they able to go to school before? Well because it was a century-old tradition in the village that the girls would take the three-hour trip every day with two water jugs to the closest source of fresh water, fill them up, walk back three hours for water for the day and that night. That’s the only thing they could do, there was no school. Oh my Lord, I thought of Jesus with the woman at the well. I thought of Jesus describing himself as living water. We could’ve brought a truckload of water into that village and that would’ve helped them for a couple of weeks. That would’ve been beautiful charity and relief.
Catholic Relief Services is not only into relief, it’s into reform. Those villagers aren’t going to have water problems in the future and that will forever, ever stick with me.
Sean Callahan: I appreciate that comment. I’d love to hear about a meeting the Missionaries of Charity and the work that they were doing in Ethiopia at that time as well.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: I’ll tell you this, if you can allow me to be a little patriotic and show off our common Catholic faith. We visited Mother Teresa’s huge shelter in the middle of Addis Ababa. The president of Ethiopia, who had received our delegation, had told us that the closest thing Ethiopia has to social security would be the Missionaries of Charity. That’s where people go when they need desperate help. And do you remember, when we went into the kitchen where they were boiling the rice, and we saw them tear open the bags of rice and the bags had on them, can you remember, Sean? They had an American flag because they came from the United States, and they had the cross of Christ because they were filtered through Catholic Relief Service. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud to be an American or more proud to be a Catholic. When I saw these two entities that I love very much, my faith and my country, I’ll never forget that.
Sean Callahan: The times are tough for many people right now, with COVID and all, and when I think of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity, and others who are doing the social work of the Catholic Church, I think about joy and love, and the change that one person can have. People always ask me, you know, there’s so many problems in the world, what change can one person make? And I always think, Mother Teresa and her congregations do some of the most difficult work in the world, and they do it with love and joy, and show that compassion that is reaffirming of the human dignity of every individual. We continue at CRS to work with the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world, including in Ethiopia and Haiti. And I’d love to hear some of your thoughts about when you arrived in Haiti after that devastating earthquake.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: We got down there, and who was leaving but the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. And we said hello to her, and she said “You’re here with Catholic Relief Services? I’ve just been here two days. It seems to be the only international organization that is getting help directly to the people.” And I said, “Well, Madam Secretary, that’s because they’re already here, we don’t parachute in. CRS has people on the ground all the time.”
Catholic Relief Services had already about 350 people working for them in Port-Au-Prince, and we got to know them. They hadn’t slept in days. They were grimy, they were exhausted, they were hungry. We listened to them, we talked to them. It was a Saturday evening, and I said to them, “Is there anything you need?” And one of them raised their hand and said, “Would you come back in six months?” And I said, “Of course I will.” And they said, “Well, everybody flies in now but they’ll forget us.” Catholic Relief Service sticks around. I said, “Count me in.” And we did go back, Sean, six months later. But then one girl raised her hand, and I will never forget this—
She says to me, “You said you’re going home tomorrow?” And I said, “Yes.” She said, “It’s Sunday morning. What time are you going home?” I said, “We’re probably not going home till about noon.” She said, “Would you come tomorrow morning and offer Mass for us?” She wanted Mass. Those 350 Catholic Relief Service people wanted Mass. I’m sure they wanted to sleep in. I’m sure they were wishing I would’ve brought them some pancakes and bacon and eggs. They wanted me to say Mass, and it was one of the more meaningful Masses I had ever had. There’s those Gospel values. There’s Mother Teresa. We take care of the heart, the soul and the body. And CRS gets an A+ for that, Sean, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so enthusiastic about it.
Sean Callahan: When you began this webinar, you mentioned casting out to the deep. How does the Gospel relate the work you’ve witnessed in your ministry and your involvement with CRS?
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: Duc in altum, that’s the Latin for “cast out to the deep.” And I love that phrase. Because we’re all tempted to stay in the shallow water, drifting, coasting, treading water. It’s what the apostles wanted, remember in the Gospel passage? They had fished all night, they were tired, they were exhausted, they were cynical, they were sarcastic. They come back in, and with empty boats, and Jesus says, “Fellas, get back out there, cast out to the deep.” They didn’t want to do it. They did and of course they had the miraculous catch of fish. I sometimes think, Sean, that’s where we’re at now as Catholics in the United States. We’re exhausted. We’re very painfully familiar with the difficulties our beloved Church is going through. We’re very acquainted and sensitive to the suffering of the communities around us through COVID, through tension and violence, even in our cities. And we’re kind of tempted to retreat. We’re kind of tempted to say, “Let’s just yawn and sit back for a while.” And Jesus won’t let us. He’s always saying, “Get back out there. Go far, cast out to the deep. Duc in altum.”
And one of the best ways to do that is through Catholic Relief Services, now more than ever. We need to rise up and say, “Darn it, I’m not going to let cynicism and sadness, and criticism take over. I want to be a voice for Christ. I want to be a voice for his Church. I want to be a voice for everything that’s noble and uplifting and sacred in the human project.
Sean Callahan: Thank you, your Eminence. I’m going to pass it over to Mark Melia to provide an opportunity for some of our guests to ask some questions. Mark?
Mark Melia: Thank you, and thank you Cardinal Dolan. That was fantastic. Sean, you spoke earlier about how COVID is affecting our work. What would you say are the places of greatest need at this time?
Sean Callahan: The first thing I’d just like to say is thank you to our private donors who allowed us to pivot on a dime and respond right away to the needs of people that were suffering. And to help protect people because of COVID. So the first thing that we did in the response was to make sure that we sent messages out, advised people of the proper protocols, helped people with masks and distancing and washing hands. Very similar to some of the messaging that we did with Ebola in West Africa at that time. And we were very successful in preventing the spread of Ebola at that time.
Currently, what we’re concerned about are two main areas. One is food security. A lot of the supply chains were disrupted. Many people couldn’t get out to the farms and didn’t have the proper materials, either fertilizer or proper seeds and things. And so we’re looking at this upcoming hunger season as being much more difficult than it has been in the past.
The second key area is the assistance in health care that people avoided because of the pandemic. So when people were locked down, we’re very worried about the lack of immunizations for children, so measles. The lack of ability to protect them against malaria, HIV/AIDS. People that were affected, could they get their medicines at that time? So many of these other problems that people were facing—not the least of which is pre- and postnatal care for mothers, afraid to go to the hospital because they did not want to get infected or infect their child. And so we’re hopeful that we can do some immediate reach out to people both in the food security and in the health area, but we’re very concerned that even if we tighten down on COVID and don’t have a spike, that we may see an increase in other maladies due to the lack of immunizations and the lack of the ability to do preventative health care. So that’s a big concern right now and our teams are out there on the watch.
Mark Melia: This is a question that we actually often receive, but I think it would be helpful for you to address. You know, we talked a little bit earlier about how CRS receives support from the government. Does that government aid sometimes come with restrictions as to where CRS may deploy those dollars?
Sean Callahan: The “special sauce” for CRS is being a Catholic, faith-based organization that has the trust of the people on the ground and our local partners. When I joined CRS, people provided assistance to us—the U.S. government and some other donors—and the term they used was “despite the fact that you’re Catholic, we’re giving to you because we know you’re doing good work.”
Let me give one quick example. Under the Bush administration, they developed AIDS relief to respond to HIV/AIDS. And they give an amount of money to four different organizations: one of them was Catholic Relief Services, which was branded as the faith-based group. And then there was Columbia, Harvard and other groups. And when they came down to the end of it, he was giving a presentation, he said, “The faith-based consortium had the highest numbers.” And they thought right away, “Well it’s probably because they don’t have as much professionalism. We’ll send a firm out there to analyze their numbers, to see what their numbers really were.” When the organization came back from the evaluation they said, “Their numbers are correct.” And they said, “How could that be? They have double the numbers of adherence, double the numbers of response from individuals than others have.” And they sent them back out to find out why the faith-based organizations had that much better response for the communities. And what it came to was trust and relationships. That people saw that, “those who were with me when my wife was giving birth or when my father was ill or my child needed emergency help, those people we can trust and we will do what they say. We will change our behaviors to respond those situations.”
So we have now found that our private donations allow us to get out into the field first. But then it attracts other resources. The U.S. government will see that it’s working, they see that we have an established group on the ground, they see we have low overhead and they say, “we want to bring things to scale. We want to have a greater impact. Let’s invest in this organization.” So that private funding attracts other funding, either from the U.S. government or large foundations. Now sometimes they do restrict it and sometimes their appeals have to include some things that Catholic Relief Services won’t do because we’re a Catholic agency. We don’t accept their money if they put strings on it that would ask us to violate our Catholic principles. So we have a strategy, we have our ethics and our values, and we follow those, and we present programs to the U.S. government that they might fund. And if it’s in line with our Catholic teaching, we will accept that, and we will leverage that resource. If it is in another area, we have to step back and allow someone else to take it because we will not violate those Catholic principles.
Mark Melia: Thank you, Sean. Cardinal Dolan, we’ve been talking about casting out to the deep during this podcast. For the Go FAR campaign, we’ve been using a phrase “Because we should, because we can.” Can you talk to us about what that means to you?
Cardinal Timothy Dolan: Gladly Mark. Because we should, because we can. My confessor, when I approach him for the sacrament of penance, I usually find myself saying, “You know I should do this, I should do this more.” I’m always talking about what should be done. And my confessor will constantly say, “Why don’t you turn the conditional should into the indicative can?” for those of us who are grammarians. With God’s grace and mercy we can do that. There’s none of us, when we look at the newspaper, when we look at the news at night, we’re saying, “Look at that suffering. Boy, oh boy. I should do something, but what can I do?” Well darn it, you can do a lot. And one of the most practical, one of the most realistic things you can do is pitch in with CRS. One project, one person, one family, one village, one well, one school at a time, and it makes a difference.
Mark Melia: Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, Glenn, Mary Jane and Haydee for joining us today. And thanks to all of you out there for participating. Sean, do you want to close with any final thoughts?
Sean Callahan: I would just like to express my gratitude to the CRS supporters for their partnership over 77 years of journey to serve the poorest around the world. In times that could seem hopeless, our agency has prevailed thanks to you. And now as we look towards the next decade, with our Vision 2030, the private support mobilized by the Go Far campaign will leverage public support and help us to work with our partners to create an epic force for good. A force that leads to the tangible, global-level change. You saw the change that Paskalina and Zaituna were able to make in their lives. This is the type of impact we want to bring to scale. Future success will depend on our closest donors, our partners and the people we serve. All of us joining together to create transformational change. You and the people you have heard about today give me great hope. Thank you, and goodbye to all.