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A jewel of charm city [Commentary]

Tucked away among many vacant houses on the 200 block of West Lexington Street, is one of the jewels of Charm City: the headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year by highlighting stories of its faithful service throughout the world.

Tucked away among many vacant houses on the 200 block of West Lexington Street is one of the jewels of Charm City: the headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year by highlighting stories of its faithful service throughout the world.

Using the Gospel of Jesus and the principles of Catholic social teaching as its mandate, the Catholic Bishops of the United States founded CRS in 1943 to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since that time, CRS has expanded its outreach efforts into Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central and Latin America and presently responds to the needs of more than 100 million people in over 100 countries, on five continents — regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

During the past few weeks, CRS has been organizing heroic relief efforts for the devastated Philippine residents of the provincial capital Tacloban. With expanded presence in Catholic churches on the island of Leyte, CRS is coordinating with the Philippine government, the United Nations and other humanitarian groups and churches in distributing water, food, waterproof tarpaulin shelters and medical services. CRS — with its emergency response experts in the areas of global hunger, international development, food aid and security — has been working in the Philippines since 1945 serving to strengthen the agricultural and economic infrastructure and ministering to the basic needs of its people.

CRS realizes that rebuilding devastated societies requires more than bricks and mortar: It requires time and community-based sustainable initiatives that, in addition to providing relief in emergency situations, help people in the developing world to break the cycle of poverty.

Over those past 70 years, CRS efforts have been helping people survive and eventually thrive. In areas devastated by natural disasters and wars — Philippines, Haiti, Sudan, Syria and Bosnia to name but a few — CRS is among the first on the ground in providing water, food, shelter and protection from abuses and unsanitary conditions. In the course of providing emergency assistance, Catholic Relief Services also seeks to work with the local communities in addressing the root causes of the conflicts.

In coordination with other world organizations, CRS takes a multi-service approach to combat chronic hunger and poverty. Fostering agriculture, improving water and sanitation facilities, developing sustainable work options, providing microfinance to support small businesses, establishing community based health care systems, helping to halt human trafficking and fostering education and peace building are some of the ways that CRS, through the generosity of Americans, is able to serve the vulnerable in the world.

A CRS worker, serving in a country where violence and death are fabrics of everyday life, recently said he was conscious of his choice to stay or leave that country. But that the people he serves do not have that choice. His promise to serve gives hope to thousands every week.

He reminded me that hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined and that some 92 percent of the people suffering from hunger live in the developing world. Over a billion people lack access to clean water, over three billion people live on less than $2 a day, over 35 million refugees wander displaced in their own countries or other countries, and more than 1 million children are victims of trafficking.

On this Thanksgiving, in our generosity, we are called to remember the sacred traditions of charity and service to the poor and needy in America and throughout the world. On its anniversary, we applaud the hands, minds and hearts of Catholic Relief Services for its indomitable spirit in remembering and serving the most vulnerable members of the human family throughout the world. And, as we see the images of typhoon Haiyan's death and destruction, how do we fathom losing one's family members, home, livelihood and community? In our prayerful reflections: Where does one go, when there is no where to go?

No matter what the situation, no matter what is happening, no matter whether it is in the news or not —Catholic Relief Services is there.

James Westwater, serves as a Deacon at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Baltimore. His email is jimwestw@verizon.net.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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