Leader of Catholic Relief Services emphasizes efforts to aid poor
By Michelle Bauman
Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services.
Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services.

.- At the recent spring meeting of the U.S. bishops, Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, highlighted the work that the charitable agency is doing around the world on behalf of the Church.

“We serve wherever there is a need,” she told the U.S. bishops, who were gathered at their spring general assembly in Atlanta, Ga., June 13-15.

Woo’s address marked the first time that she had spoken to the bishops’ conference since becoming the head of the charitable organization on Jan. 1, 2012.

In her presentation, Woo explained that Catholic Relief Services strives to serve the “common good” with “uncommon excellence.”

She told the bishops that the organization is “always innovating” and “always improving to make sure that our work is good.”

Founded in 1943, Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the U.S. It reaches more than 100 million people in over 100 countries, providing both disaster relief and long-term development aid.

The agency works closely with local institutions to serve all those in need, regardless of their religion, race or nationality. It serves a broad range of needs, responding to emergencies, promoting education and health, fighting disease, and supporting peace and justice in societies throughout the world.

In addition, it engages Catholics in the U.S. to live in solidarity with those who are impoverished and suffering across the globe.

The organization is governed by a board of directors that consists of clergy – primarily bishops – as well as religious and Catholic laity.

Woo explained that Catholic social teaching is the “foundation” of the agency’s mission as it works to uphold the dignity of all human life, foster justice and serve those in need.

The agency serves those in the poorest nations, she noted, adding that “when a country becomes rich, we leave.”

In addition to working with a variety of partners, particularly Catholic organizations, Catholic Relief Services is working to expand its “involvement with universities and corporations,” she reported.

As an example of the group’s work, Woo pointed to efforts in Haiti to “build back better” after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people in the country and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Catholic Relief Services is working to build secure and sustainable structures, create a “teaching hospital” in Port-au-Prince and help local educational groups develop a vision for the future of Catholic education in the country, she said.

It is also teaching farmers how to add value to their crops and continuing the work of community recovery, offering shelter, safety, clean water and other necessities for families returning to their neighborhoods.

Woo also outlined ways in which the bishops can help Catholics Relief Services in its mission.

She encouraged the bishops to link to the organization on their own diocesan websites and to help integrate Catholic social teaching into formation programs.

In addition, she welcomed the bishops to travel overseas with Catholic Relief Services, to see the work that the agency is doing around the world.

Woo also addressed the bishops’ concerns about certain federal contract proposals last summer that would have required the distribution of contraceptives. About 70 percent of Catholic Relief Services’ funding comes from U.S. government, and about 80 percent comes through a competitive process.

Woo said that the agency worked with the government, and as of February, the problematic language had been “eliminated.”

She assured the bishops that the organization is still “monitoring this issue very closely” to ensure that future proposals do not “embed that language.”

Tags: Catholic Relief Services, Poverty

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