Shortly after I retired as pastor of St. Mel, I received an invitation to work with Catholic Relief Services — specifically, to join “Global Fellows,” comprised of priests and deacons, who preach the story and work of CRS over a weekend at parishes.
From the very earliest days of my priesthood, I always loved preaching. So I immediately felt called to this new ministry, especially since I had worked with the poor of downtown Los Angeles for many years in my service at Catholic Charities — and I had always admired CRS’ outreach to the poor worldwide.
I have never regretted signing up. It is as if I have spread my wings from the confines of the poor of Los Angeles, to embrace the poor of the whole world. As a Global Fellow, I have had the opportunity to see CRS’ work first-hand.
In Nicaragua we saw wells dug by the people with equipment and help from CRS. We saw irrigation channels bringing water to the fields, and we saw the crops growing, all because of CRS, who could only do this with the help of U.S. Catholics. CRS not only teaches farmers how to use the equipment but how to repair it. Their aim is to make these people independent, giving them a solid sense of their own dignity by providing for themselves.
A few months after the earthquake in Haiti, a group of us Global Fellows went there to witness CRS’ response. Having served the poor there for over 50 years, CRS was well prepared, providing emergency supplies of food, clean water, medicine and tents for shelter.
But our visit to a devastated valley community near Port-au-Prince, where most dwellings were reduced to rubble, powerfully illustrated how CRS works with the people to rebuild their lives with dignity.
With no earth-moving equipment at their disposal, two young women and a man immediately formed a committee which organized the inhabitants into groups who removed the rubble with buckets, barrels, wheelbarrows and whatever they could find. The valley became a bee-hive of activity, as men, women and even children slowly but surely removed the rubble up to the edge of the valley.
CRS then provided crushing machines to reduce the rubble to rough sand, which was used for the foundation of temporary homes. We saw that some of these homes were already built and many more were rising up. When a home was built, the resident family painted brilliantly colored murals on the walls. These brightly-colored new homes — hope for a new future, rising up from the ruins — were certainly a sight to behold.
We had the joy of celebrating Mass in an open tent beside the ruins of the parish church. The people sang in full voice, clapping with gusto and hope-filled hearts. Afterwards we meet a delightful little girl in the priest’s house. The pastor told us that early one morning shortly after the earthquake, he found this little child on the doorstep, abandoned by her desperate parents. A family on the church grounds, living in temporary accommodations, has taken this adorable child into their care until she can be adopted — the poor caring for the poorer.
We visited Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity, who have a CRS-funded home for the dying and orphans, their numbers augmented by the earthquake. The love permeating that house was palpable. At a sister’s invitation, a little boy came over and sang for us like an angel. The nun told us the boy and his sister are being adopted by an American couple, another sign of hope.
These little encounters spur me on to inspire our Catholic community here in the U.S. to continue to come to their aid. Though they have survived the earthquake, they are still desperately in need.
As Catholics, we can be very proud of this work. What a privilege to help the poorest of the poor!
From the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis never ceases calling us to give priority to the poor, to be “a poor Church for the poor.” He hears, and invites us to hear, the call of Jesus himself: “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
Yet, as I travel around telling the good news of CRS, I never cease to be shocked by a profound ignorance of CRS. When I ask people from the ambo if they have heard of CRS, most often very few hands are raised. After all these years it’s sad that so many of our Catholic people still don’t know of this charitable work of our Church.
Now in my “retired years,” I feel a fresh fire within driving me to tell this good news to anyone who will listen. I would love to come to your parish for a weekend and encourage you to become a member of the family of CRS by showing your love to the poorest of the poor. Then the poor will know by your love that there is a God who loves them.
Thank you for taking this message of love into your hearts.
Msgr. Padraic Loftus is pastor emeritus of St. Mel Church, Woodland Hills. Ordained in 1962, the native of County Mayo, Ireland, previously served as a regional director for Catholic Social Services, associate director of Catholic Charities, and first director of Detention Ministry (now Restorative Justice). For information on CRS’ Global Fellows outreach, visit http://globalfellows.crs.org/.