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CRS: Making a Difference

I am sure that you've heard the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I am always amazed when I see this proverb in action.

Archbishop Listecki

Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee


I am sure that you've heard the old Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” I am always amazed when I see this proverb in action. My recent trip to the Philippines affirmed that quote and the great work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Arriving in Manila late Sunday night (Manila is 13 hours ahead of Milwaukee), we hit the ground running on Monday by visiting the main CRS office, and receiving an overview of their operations. One aspect that was very obvious was the joy that people experienced by working for CRS. They believe that they are making a difference and, by the end of the week, I witnessed the significant differences they were making in the lives of the citizens of the Philippines.

We travelled to a local port area that would best be described as a “shanty town.” CRS partnered with the local political entity (almost like a community organization) entrusted with the care of the poor in the area. The success of CRS is their willingness to collaborate and partner with the local citizens. This ensures human dignity, and empowers the locals to assume responsibility.     

There is a program called SILC (pronounced “silk”), Saving Internal Lending Community. A person is put in charge of a collective savings, and makes an investment for the group in order for the money to grow. The leader is trained, and tight controls are exercised over the deposits. One bishop explained to me that people who are poor need to be trained in savings. Also, entrepreneurial endeavors are encouraged. One endeavor is separating the refuse into plastic, biodegradable and non-biodegradable, which no one likes to do. For a few pennies, the sorting is done and resold to plastic recycling corporations, fertilizing agencies and landfills – everyone wins. A member of our group, Michele Broemmelsiek, started her career in CRS in the Philippines, and was amazed at the cleanup that has taken place over the years.

On Tuesday, we boarded a plane and flew to Cagayán (the Philippines is composed of over 7,600 islands), and drove to the City of Iligan. In this area, which has been dominated for a long time by Islamists, Christians are a minority. A recent conflict created by ISIS and response by the government has left this region devastated after a five-month siege. Many people fled their homes, some of which were destroyed, and CRS was there to assist in finding shelter for these displaced individuals. While there, we viewed the destructive element of the war and the need for rebuilding.

Part of that rebuilding has to be peacebuilding. Creating dialogue and destroying misconceptions and distrust is key for the future of Marawi and ground zero. It is probably surprising to some that CRS would be involved with peacebuilding, but it makes sense if an area is going to be the recipient of aid that conflict doesn’t negate the good that is accomplished. Establishing cooperative and collaborative neighbors makes everyone responsible.

On Wednesday evening, we returned to Manila with a scheduled departure to Tacloban the next day. We visited the Anibong resettlement project. Imagine, 900 families losing their homes to a category five tropical cyclone, Typhoon Haiyan. These families need dwellings, and now CRS will give them the opportunity to own their home – many for the first time in their lives. But again, this is a joint effort, with many from the local community engaged in the construction. Pride beamed from the faces of the workers who were showing off their project like proud parents of a newborn.

Every CRS office we visited had that same spirit of making a difference and performing significant work for the community. The bishops and Catholic faithful should be very proud of the work accomplished on their behalf, not only in the Philippines, but across the globe. The Chinese proverb mentioned earlier is fulfilled everywhere. People are being empowered, their dignity ensured by their participation in the process. However, if immediate assistance was needed by those who could not help themselves, CRS was there for them as well.

Every time I come back from a mission trip, I realize how blessed we are to live in a country with so many conveniences. I remember the scripture quote, “To those who have been given much, much will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48) I only hope that I can give back some of the blessings that God has bestowed on me. There is little doubt in my mind that those working for CRS and their benefactors really do LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Note: This blog originally appeared as the July 17, 2018 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.

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