SOUTHINGTON – Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Servies (CRS), reminded about 400 supporters of Catholic social justice on Oct. 27 that they share in the work of her organization by performing works of mercy.
Dr. Woo spoke about how the 72-year-old organization responds to the call of the Gospel to serve the poorest and most vulnerable on behalf of Catholics in the United States. She was the guest speaker at the 47th annual Social Justice Dinner and Awards at the Aqua Turf Club.
Dr. Woo, who was listed by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the 500 most powerful people on the planet, has been traveling the country speaking on behalf of CRS. Before being named its CEO in 2012, she served as dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.
“You are the church; we are the church,” said Dr. Woo, who talked about the work of CRS to put “faith in action” by “serving the poorest of the poor” and responding to the millions of displaced refugees today, while also providing aid in response to earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters worldwide.
“Who is our neighbor? Anyone in need,” she said. “We have to open our eyes; our neighbor is anyone who crosses our path and is in need. We serve on the basis of need and not creed,” she said.
Founded in 1943 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to serve World War II survivors in Europe, CRS has since expanded to reach 85 million people in 101 countries on five continents. Its mission is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, by working in alignment with Catholic social teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person.
“The problem is not about scarcity but distribution,” she said, noting that much of the work of the agency today is on making programs sustainable.
“Serving the poor is a tremendous privilege,” said Dr. Woo. “Our work is a privilege.”
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair expressed his gratitude for the “faith and fidelity” of all who work on behalf of social justice, and thanked Lynn Campbell, executive director of the Office for Catholic Social Justice Ministry, for her “very able direction.”
Noting that the “gulf between the rich and the poor” is only going to “grow ever greater,” he urged the faithful to continue to reach out to those in need in our society.
The archbishop also referenced the challenge of Pope Francis, who has drawn attention to the great spiritual, moral and material needs in the world today, and who has likened the church to a “field hospital for the wounded.”
The Bishop Joseph F. Donnelly Memorial Award for an individual was presented to Nancy Kiely, a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Wethersfield. She was cited for her more than 20 years of leading parish and community efforts to advance social justice, particularly in environmental issues; care for the poor; and social justice education.
The Donnelly Award for a group was presented to The Malta House of Care mobile medical clinic, which was recognized for its work to narrow the gap in health disparities and achieve equity in access to health care for uninsured communities.
The Dr. Charlie Schlegel Award for Cooperative Parish Sharing went to St. Mary Parish in New Britain for its Hispanic Families in Action project. The project has engaged and empowered families in the community to increase awareness of citizenship responsibilities and help families deal more effectively with their own circumstances and daily issues.
The awards are named in memory of Auxiliary Bishop Joseph F. Donnelly, for his life of dedication in serving the needs of the poor; and Dr. Schlegel, who served for 40 years as a founding member of the Cooperative Parish Sharing Committee.