Partnerships matter for all God’s children

Few know that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) began its mission in 1943, distributing supplies to Allied prisoners of war and assisting resettlement of European refugees. Today CRS reaches 100 million people in 100 countries and works closely with many faith-based and secular partners around the world.

As former chairman of CRS, I have had the privilege of seeing life-affirming, effective development and humanitarian work up close. Never will I forget, for instance, being in an isolated Ethiopian village to “flip the switch” for a new well installed by CRS, bringing fresh water and tears of joy, to hundreds of grateful villagers.

{mosads}This work really matters and its success really matters. Which is why foreign aid is often about partnerships: in the field, across borders, among all creeds and churches, between public and private sectors. The U.S. government looks to many non-governmental organizations, including CRS, to effectively implement work on the ground. CRS staff is on the front lines, experienced and trusted by overseas communities for decades. But it is the funding and influence of the U.S. government that leads the way to the success the world is experiencing today.

This generation of children is the healthiest the world has ever known. This year, more than six million fewer children will die than in 1990. The results are unprecedented. No doubt much work remains to be done, but progress is significant and going in the right direction.

Foreign aid success looks like the child drinking a glass of water free from disease; the infant born free of AIDS; the toddler with a belly full of nutritious food, not distended by worms and malnutrition. It is girls in a classroom and a mother selling extra vegetables she was able to grow because she no longer has to walk six hours every day just to find water for her family. It’s the dignity and safety of sanitation as well as the farmer who has the tools and techniques to increase harvests. It’s about all God’s children not only surviving but thriving and growing into healthy, productive adults.

Emergencies make headlines. What does not is building resilience to prevent avoidable deaths, and help communities make a faster comeback after catastrophe strikes. Ebola sent fear around the globe. CRS was in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea before the Ebola outbreak and worked to curb it. What is key, now that the outbreaks have been arrested and the fear-inducing headlines have subsided, is to strengthen health systems – already weak and then devastated by Ebola – to avoid future outbreaks and ensure life-saving routine healthcare. CRS is there. But we can’t do it alone.

The U.S. government spends less than one percent of the federal budget on foreign aid, yet that funding remains terribly misunderstood and on the annual chopping block at budget time. This one percent never imposes a choice between the child in need here in the U.S. and the child overseas. And that funding helps leverage millions dollars more from the private sector, including the generosity of Catholics and other people of faith.

It is significant that when Pope Francis, whose message of caring for the least of these has touched not just Catholics, but the world, visits the U.S. this fall, he will address the governing body that writes the check for U.S. foreign aid: Congress. Fortunately, we do have members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who understand that foreign aid is in everyone’s best interest, including our own. Foreign aid is also about our security and economy; it’s vital to diplomacy and reflective of our morality.

We are called to care for the neediest, not just the nearest. As our Congressional legislators in Washington work under budget constraints, they need to hear from us. They need to know that America’s faith communities, made up of millions of hardworking Americans, support global health and humanitarian programs. As Catholics, we cannot refuse to help that distant child when we know we are able. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and Mohammed is clear: to help those in need is not just a nice idea, but a moral imperative.  

Each of us reflects the priorities of this great nation, and among the most important are hope and compassion. For all God’s children.

Dolan was named Archbishop of New York by Pope Benedict XVI on February 23, 2009. He had previously served as Archbishop of Milwaukee, appointed there by Pope Saint John Paul II in 2002. Cardinal Dolan was elected to a three-year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2010 and served as chairman of Catholic Relief Services.


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