Intern Explores CRS Diocesan Outreach

By: Rita Marino, CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University and CRS Intern in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Regional Office

Like many instances in life, I did not understand the grandness and complexities of CRS' domestic operations until I came on board as intern. This semester I have completed a myriad of tasks that have supported collegiate and high school outreach. Although most of my work has centered around university programming, this fall I had the exciting opportunity see how CRS engaged beyond the college setting with diocesan leaders and institutions.    

On September 28 and 29, Diocesan Directors, Fair Trade Ambassadors, and variety of other CRS partners came together for the Catholic Relief Services’ Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Regional Gathering in Malvern, PA. The purpose of the annual Regional Meeting was to discuss current overseas work and advocacy campaigns, to demonstrate new CRS resources available for our faith communities, to collaborate as a region, and to inspire one another.

As a student, one of the most interesting components of the meeting was to see CRS through another lens and to realize the diversity and scope of this organization. This past summer, I travelled to Baltimore to attend the CRS SALT Summit, which is an annual gathering of collegiate CRS ambassadors. Unlike the CRS SALT Summit, which was filled with inspiring young adults beginning to embark on the world, the Regional Meeting was made up of professionals, such as deacons and Catholic school superintendents, with years of rich experiences under their belt. Despite differences in our professional experiences, we all bring unique perspectives to the table and a shared commitment to global solidarity. 

Rita at Training

(This photo was taken at our CRS Student Ambassador Regional Training at Cabrini University in Pennsylvania in September 2016.  I'm the Villanova student in the lower left in blue.)

During the regional gathering, I attended Caroline Brennan’s presentation, “Stories of Mercy from Around the World.” Brennan serves as an emergency correspondent for Catholic Relief Services, covering crises in places such as the Middle East and Europe. Her presentation revolved around hardships in Ethiopia and Iraq. At the CRS SALT Summit, I also had the pleasure of hearing Brennan present on The European Refugee Crisis. Hearing her Regional Meeting presentation was equally poignant.

Incorporating personal anecdotes, Brennan first described the drought in Ethiopia and its fatal consequences. The lack of rain has caused meager harvests, unpredictable conditions for farmers, and a difficult environment for livestock to survive. Brennan explained that there is, “No food to eat at home, no food to buy or sell in the market, no income for farmers, no fodder or water for animals.” Here is a photo of one of the many animals that perished in these conditions.

Ethiopia Photo

She then spoke of the harsh conditions in Iraq where more than 3.3 million people have been uprooted since January 2014 due to forces such as the Islamic State of Iran and Syria. Brennan described their search for new homes, the comfort of their former lives and their desire for simple luxuries like privacy.  

One of the most compelling and hopeful aspects of Brennan’s presentation was her stories about CRS’ work within these communities. CRS’ actions and mission statement align, as the organization truly strives to promote human development. Whether CRS is teaching Ethiopian farmers how to cultivate more drought-related crops or hiring displaced Iraqi teachers and counselors in its student centers, CRS is driven to sustainable solutions that support the development of each person.  

Although monetary donations are an integral part of every non-profit, it is how these funds are utilized that is important. The reason that CRS’ commitment to human development resonates so deeply with me is that CRS treats all people with the dignity they deserve. It does not merely “giving things away,” place a “needy” or “helpless” label on those in difficult circumstances, offer help to serve an ego.

Brennan ended her presentation with a request. She asked for each of us to remember the “individuals at the heart of it.” This year I heard Brennan speak at two very different settings. This has made me realize just how important our engagement is, especially as college students. Whether a student, a lay person, or a somebody with no prior affiliation to CRS, it is imperative to remember that the tribulations of struggling individuals and families across our globe cannot be ignored. Brennan's presentation highlighted how CRS integrates Catholic responses to these important issues, while giving us hope and inspiration to do our part in this mission of global solidarity.