Working for Better Nutrition

Sr. Irma helps run a Cross Catholic Outreach-supported feeding program in Guatemala.

Sr. Irma helps run a Cross Catholic Outreach-supported feeding program in Guatemala.

Our Vitafood shipments will improve the nutritional quality of the meals provided to poor Guatemalan children.

Our Vitafood shipments will improve the nutritional quality of the meals provided to poor Guatemalan children.

Cross Catholic Outreach’s Vitafood shipments can’t come too soon for Sr. Irma Davila. She and her fellow Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption are being stretched to feed 1,000 poor people per day, six days a week, in Mixco, Guatemala. She’s already distributed a supply of dried fruits received from Cross, and now she’s looking forward to receiving the nutrient-enriched rice packets.

Here’s why this outreach is so important…

Last week on Tuesday, droves of hungry children lined up to be fed, but there was nothing to give them but donated cake and some pastries – a terrible choice in terms of nutritional value, but necessary to fill empty stomachs. The humble program relies mostly on donations of surplus or expiring food from local restaurants and businesses, and as beggars, they can’t be choosers.

While the kids didn’t seem to mind eating dessert for lunch, Sr. Irma is concerned by the shortage of more nutritional foods. As a parent, I can’t imagine not knowing from one day to the next whether there will be anything nutritious to feed my children.

God willing, our Vitafood meals will be on their way to Sr. Irma very soon, and she will be able to give the children in her care the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Please remember her the next time you grocery shop for your family – and use the moment to pray on her behalf.  Pray too for Cross as we strive to help dedicated missionaries like the Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption be a force for positive change in their struggling communities.

-Tony M.

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St. Martin de Porres

The feast day of St. Martin de Porres is a reminder to all who work on behalf of the poor that man’s ways are not God’s ways. Rather than choose powerful and dynamic leaders to be his hands and feet on earth, our Lord often draws out saints from humble places and shapes them through difficult circumstances.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, when Martin de Porres lived, a man of his position would expect to live out his life as the simple house servant of a wealthy man. Born the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave from Panama, Martin de Porres was abandoned by his father when he was about two years old. To make ends meet, his mother supported the family by taking in laundry and cleaning for the rich, and she had her son learn the trade of a barber-surgeon.

From early childhood, Martin knew the call of God and spent long hours in prayer. By law, he was forbidden from entering a religious order, so he asked to become a servant of the Dominicans in Lima where he could do menial tasks to keep the priory clean. His heart was full of God’s love for the poor, and he soon reached out to those in need around him. For example, he used his medical skills to treat those who could not afford care. He also began to feed the hungry, especially the children and the sick. In this way, Martin de Porres embodied the love of Jesus in the community he served.

Martin was eventually allowed to become a lay brother in the Dominican Order, something that he resisted because he said he was not worthy. In this role, he established an orphanage and a children’s hospital.

Martin de Porres knew what it meant to be rejected by the society in which he lived because of the circumstances of his birth. He also knew what it meant to be hungry. For Martin de Porres, these life experiences and the merciful ministries he performed as a result moved him closer to God and transformed his life.

At Cross Catholic Outreach, we humbly seek to emulate Martin de Porres. We strive to be instruments of the same love, care and transforming power as we travel to serve the poorest of the poor. Through our many outreaches, we deliver food and safe water, medicines and school supplies. We work to build housing, orphanages, clinics and water sources. In this way, we and our benefactors carry on in the spirit of St. Martin de Porres.

-Fr. Bernard Olszewski
Guest Blogger

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I heard an incredible story…

Carlos Gomez (right) and Mother Miguel Conway (left), co-founder of the project.

Carlos Gomez (right) and Mother Miguel Conway (left), co-founder of the project.

On my recent visit to the Working Boys’ Center in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, I heard an incredible story about a spiritual encounter that happened 50 years ago.  It forever changed a life and continues to impact the ministry to this day.

The story begins with a poor shoeshine boy named Carlos Gomez.  On a God-blessed day in the 1960s, Carlos encountered Fr. John Halligan, the co-founder of the Working Boys’ Center, and a new and miraculous journey began for the child.

“One day, I saw a group of kids with a tall white man,” Carlos recalled. “I went right up to him and asked, ‘Shoeshine, Mister?’ It was Fr. John, and he let me shine his shoes. While I was shining them, he told me, ‘I have a center where you can come and get a meal for free and play.’ And then when I was finished, he gave me $1. A whole dollar! Back then, that was enough to get food for the entire week!

“When I got to the church, I recognized other kids who worked on the streets. I went up the dark stairs of the church to the attic. When I got to the top, I saw Fr. John. He said to me, ‘Carlos, you are welcome here!’”

That day, the course of Carlos’ life changed. He began to receive daily meals, support to finish school, life skills training, and most importantly, he discovered the eternal importance of the Catholic faith.

Today, Carlos’ life is a testament to the importance the Working Boys’ Center. In 1990, he was selected for a Kellogg’s Leadership Fellowship, and he now serves as a director at the center, overseeing community projects and giving back to the organization that changed his life.

Like most good stories, Carlos’ has a romantic subplot. As a young student, he met a beautiful girl named Rosa at the center—and now they have been married for over three decades!

I love stories about how God is working through our partners to break the cycle of poverty and share his love with people desperate for hope. Working Boys’ Center helped Carlos rise above his impoverished circumstances, now he’s helping today’s participants become Ecuador’s future leaders. That’s what I call full circle change!

-Catherine M.

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Guyana documentary

Some of our dedicated Guyanese ministry partners were recently featured in a documentary about Catholics serving the poor and vulnerable in this beautiful but economically challenged country. Watch the video below to meet the girls at St. Ann’s Orphanage in Georgetown and to join Fr. Humberto Villa on a boat ride into the impoverished tropical countryside.

When I met Fr. Humberto six years ago, he was a young priest newly assigned to the region by his order, the Institute of the Incarnate Word. Now he serves as headmaster of a boys’ dormitory while also tending to the needs of families throughout nine local parishes. As you’ll see, he’s got a lot to say about the challenges facing the people in those communities.

-Tony M.

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St. Francis of Assisi

The life of Francis of Assisi reminds us that people of holiness and greatness are not born that way. They become holy and great because they choose to act when God asks them to change the world, making his “kingdom come” on earth as it is in heaven.

Francis began life as a spoiled rich kid lacking nothing. We know very little about those early days of his life except that one day he heard the voice of God call to him to change his vision of the world and the people in it.

Francis became a different man because he made a conscious decision to look at the world through the eyes of God – and, as a result, became God’s instrument of love.  For the first time in his life, Francis truly saw the face of Christ in the faces of sisters and brothers in need. He began his path to holiness by responding to those needs wherever and whenever he could. He gave his cloak to those who had none. He brought healing with words of understanding and compassion. He encouraged those suffering from bodily illness, nursing even those afflicted with dangerous leprosy. He shared the little food he had begged for with others who had even less.

Francis of Assisi died at sunset on October 3, 1226.  His death and burial were witnessed by hundreds of people from the order he founded as well as by the citizens from the towns he had touched with his compassion. They knew he was a special man –truly a saint in their midst! Within two years of his death, Francis was officially declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

At Cross Catholic Outreach, we seek to make the gospel of Jesus Christ real in the lives of the poorest of the poor, just as Francis taught.  We seek to transform the world into a place of holiness and peace by recognizing the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor and by addressing their material, emotional, physical and spiritual needs as Francis did almost 800 years ago.

-Fr. Bernard Olszewski
Guest Blogger

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Cameras and Baby-sized Hugs: A Visit to St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage

Henry’s little hand is reaching for the camera!

Henry’s little hand is reaching for the camera!

Last week, when I walked into the nursery at St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage in Quito, Ecuador, a group of babies toddled towards me to check out my camera equipment. Just like other kids their age, they were curious about the world around them.  They wanted to explore.

As the children crawled onto my lap and reached for my equipment, orphanage director Paulina Inapanta told me their stories. Each baby’s history was tied to a tragic tale of abandonment, loss, or severe poverty – sometimes all three. But as I listened, each sad story ended on a similarly happy or hopeful note.  Ultimately, each had been rescued by the sisters and was now experiencing the joys and opportunities of this loving orphanage.

One of the kids on my lap was 14-month-old Henry.  He had arrived at the nursery only one week after his birth. Henry’s parents are poor teenagers.  They don’t have the means to properly care for a child. Like many poor Ecuadorians, his malnourished parents had relieved the pain of growling stomachs by sniffing glue – even while Henry was in the womb. This caused Henry some development problems.

“Because of Henry’s situation, I decided we should to do physical therapy with all of the babies, because we never know their entire background story,” Paulina told me.

Thanks to that therapy, nutritional daily meals and 24/7 loving care, Henry has learned to crawl on his forearms, and the staff hopes he’ll learn to walk soon! Judging by Henry’s sweet disposition and willingness to cuddle, I can tell he’s being showered with the love of Christ.

“The first thing we do here is teach them they are loved and cared for,” said Sr. Lidia, one of the nuns caring for the children. “Through the affection we give them; they discover that the Lord loves them – and that is most important.”

There was another happy note to Henry’s story. Paulina told me that he is now eligible to be adopted! Please pray that God sends him godly parents who will continue to give him the love he needs to succeed in life.

As Henry and his little friends crawled on top of me and gave me baby-sized hugs, it reminded me about how God takes care of his children. These little ones are on the road to a joyful life, doing things that babies should do – like trying to eat my camera equipment!

-Catherine M.

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St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul lived in eighteenth century France and saw all about him the needs of the poor and marginalized.  His desire was to help feed, shelter, and minister to the poorest of the poor at his time.  Much like what Cross Catholic Outreach desires to do today.  In order to care for the poor, he organized groups of lay people to gather the necessities of life and distribute food, clothing, and medicine to those in need.  Nearly every Catholic parish in the world today has a group known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which cares for the needs of the poor in their parish and beyond.

As men and women came to St. Vincent and wanted to do more, he formally organized two religious congregations, The Daughters of Charity, to care for the needs of the poor and do catechetical ministry, and the Vincentians, a congregation of religious men to provide for the poor and conduct seminary education so that parish priests could more adequately care for the needs of the poor in their midst.

Cross Catholic Outreach carries out its ministry to the poorest of the poor in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul and many of the saints of the Church who have taught us how best to care for those in need.

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Investing in mothers, improving future generations

In Haiti, investing in the health care of women means improving the lives of the next generation.

In Haiti, investing in the health care of women means improving the lives of the next generation.

I was five months pregnant when I left Cross Catholic Outreach’s branch office in Port-au-Prince, hopped on a small, prop plane and flew to a gravel airstrip in Jérémie, a coastal town in southern Haiti. I’d gone there to visit our long-time partners the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF), a ministry providing comprehensive medical care to thousands of people throughout this region.

Once the plane landed, I jumped in a truck and began the three-hour trek to a Cross Catholic-supported health clinic in the rural, mountain village of Guitionniere. When I arrived, the clinic’s work day was already well underway, and hundreds of people were congregating there for vital medical care. A nearby canvas tent immediately caught my eye.  In that simple structure, pregnant women were receiving pre-natal care – something their mothers and grandmothers had never enjoyed.

Just the week prior, I had been in South Florida for my own routine pre-natal check-up. Though the environments couldn’t have been more different, it was edifying to see that the poor Haitian women were receiving a level of information and care very similar to my own.

In this rural, mountaintop village without water or electricity, I listened as nurses taught the pregnant women the importance of proper hygiene, balanced nutrition and taking their supplied vitamins. The patients were also screened for life-threatening conditions, trained in breastfeeding and counseled in how to care for their babies and families post-delivery.

Though I appreciated the help I’d gained in the United States, at that moment I was very thankful to be in this remote Haitian village, learning new and valuable information that has since helped me during my own pregnancy. Even more than that, I was grateful to be a part of a project that is providing life-saving care through the investment and education of mothers. Clearly, offering comprehensive pre-natal care to the rural poor empowers more than the mothers.  It also dramatically improves the lives of the next generation.

-Annie O.

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Improving Lives in Haiti

Gertrude Cene at the Kobonal Haiti Mission school she attended as a teenager.

Gertrude Cene at the Kobonal Haiti Mission school she attended as a teenager.

When Gertrude Cene’s stomach growls during class at nursing school, she recalls the blessings of the Kobonal Haiti Mission with a spirit of gratitude. Though she only attended the mission school for one year during her teens, she fondly remembers the way daily nutritious meals kept her satisfied and alert. Without a meal program, the neediest students have no choice but to work on an empty stomach – a problem that stunts them both physically and mentally. As Gertrude puts it, “You are sitting in the class, but you are out of the class.”

Another fond memory for Gertrude is a teacher the children called “Father Good-Heart.” She recalls how Father Good-Heart treated the students like his own sons and daughters, and how he would play with them and strive to ensure they always understood their lessons.

In 2010, Gertrude was living in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck. Upon her return to the Central province as a displaced survivor, she and her family were blessed by the Mission with a house and a plot of land. More recently, the Mission has also supported Gertrude’s medical studies. Despite her hard life, she is excited about her career prospects. She says, “I praise God my dream will become a reality. If you are a nurse, you can help people who are suffering. Because of all the help I received from the Mission, that is a way I can help people too.”

Gertrude is one example of the human impact of Catholic poverty relief ministries. She says, “There is a lot of difficulty in the world, but with prayer anything is possible.”

May many more lives be touched by the work of our friends at the Kobonal Haiti Mission!

-Tony M.


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A “Founding Father” We Remember and Honor

Msgr. Michael Patrick Aloysius Flanagan

Msgr. Michael Patrick Aloysius Flanagan

Msgr. Michael Patrick Aloysius Flanagan was the first Outreach Priest to join Cross Catholic Outreach in 2002. As one of the “Founding Fathers” in the ministry, he preached with great passion for the poorest of the poor, always making his appeals personal and deeply moving for those who heard him. He was incardinated into the Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica in 1997.

Msgr. Flanagan and I were made Monsignors together by Saint John Paul II in November of 1999. Bishop Paul Boyle of Mandeville presided over the ceremony.  Msgr. Mike had a great sense of humor and often disclosed he was “super priest” – complete with an “S” emblazoned T-shirt – as part of his retreat presentations and guest homilies. He truly enjoyed his priesthood and his ability to make a difference in the lives of the poor through his parish visits. He was also a good “brother priest” and would love to host gatherings for priests in his home.

We were blessed to have Msgr. Michael with us for so many years, and we invite the thousands of donors he brought into the Cross Catholic Outreach family to remember him in their prayers at this time of his passing.



-Msgr. Ted Bertagni
Guest Blogger

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