The needy in our backyard

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If you eat a tomato during the winter months, it’s very likely it was picked by an immigrant farmer in Immokalee, Florida. This rural area, located about a two-hour drive north of our Florida headquarters, is known as the tomato capital of America. Sadly, it’s also famous (or infamous) for its checkered history of worker exploitation.

Wondering why a writer for an international ministry is writing about local farmers? There is, in fact, a connection to Cross Catholic – a connection of which many of our donors are probably unaware. You see, in addition to our international outreaches, from time to time Cross Catholic also does some humanitarian work here in the U.S., including in Immokalee.

As a gesture of solidarity with a U.S.-based ministry friend of ours, Cross Catholic helps supply a Thanksgiving dinner for Immokalee’s poor immigrant families. Many of these struggling men, women and children are transients who have come to the area for low paying farming jobs as a first step toward a successful life in America. This year’s event fed over 2,000 people at a local park.  In addition, about 600 home deliveries were made and 1,000 more meals distributed by other partners throughout the area. It was, quite literally, a chance for us to feed the families who feed us.

The annual Thanksgiving event is an outreach of the One by One Leadership Foundation. It involves the joint efforts of local churches and other groups to show God’s love to the poor. The tradition began 31 years ago, when a tomato freeze devastated the local farming industry and left a lot of people in serious need during the holidays. The words of Isaiah 58 are the event’s inspiration: “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

The dinner is an opportunity to love the people of Immokalee and to feel God’s presence in a powerful way. One by One’s executive director, John Lawson, told us, “What happens at noon on Thanksgiving day, there is a prayer that is offered. You have to be there to experience it, because you have 3000 people that are suddenly silent. And when you have a silence of people, nature then just kind of rises up and the hair on people’s arms stands up because they know there’s something special….You have the people who are wealthy serving the people who are poor, but the people who are poor are blessing the people who are wealthy.”

-Tony M.

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A joyful moment

A TV camerawoman looks on as a beneficiary holds a slip of paper indicating the house that will be hers.

A TV camerawoman looks on as a beneficiary holds a slip of paper indicating the house that will be hers.

The new housing development resounds with songs of celebration.

The new housing development resounds with songs of celebration.

Last month’s inaugural ceremony for the newly constructed homes in the village of Las Palmas attracted a Nicaraguan TV news crew. This was a happy moment for all involved, as each family was presented with a Bible and the keys to their sturdy new home, provided by Rainbow Network with funding from Cross Catholic. The event included music, a traditional dance performance, and a blessing by a priest.

The joy on the people’s faces was a testimony to just how special of a gift these simple cinderblock houses really are. This is their chance to step out of squalor and grab hold of a better future, as they take ownership of their new homes and contribute their own time and effort to painting walls, putting up fences and creating a beautiful community.

-Tony M.

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St. Francis Xavier

Saint Francis Xavier

In a recent address to Italy’s National Missionary Congress, Pope Francis stated that all Christians and “not just the few” are called to intensify their missionary spirit and go out to proclaim the joy of the Gospel. For some of us, the Holy Father’s comment may beg the question – how exactly do we achieve this? Perhaps the feast of St. Francis Xavier provides the answer – just do what God asks you to do.

Francis Xavier was born into an aristocratic family during a time of great political upheaval in Spain, especially in the Basque region where his family lived. When he went to Paris to study it was with the intention he would return to Spain to take part in the politics of the day. But God had other plans.

In Paris, Francis Xavier roomed with Ignatius Loyola and Pierre Favre who became the founders of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, and their influence clearly touched his soul. Though the young Francis resisted God’s call to become a priest, he eventually admitted his vocation and began his mission to save the lost.

On 15 August 1534, in a small chapel in Montmartre, he joined Loyola and five others, making private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and vowed to travel to the Holy Land to convert infidels. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on June 24, 1537. He celebrated his first Mass in Vicenza after forty days in prayers.

Soon after, Francis Xavier became an accidental “Apostle to the East.” His companion Nicholas Bobadilla was selected by Ignatius Loyola to go to India, but at the last moment Bobadilla became ill and Francis Xavier took his place. He became the first Jesuit missionary in the history of this new religious community, and eventually became known as the “Apostle of the Indies,” and the “Apostle of Japan”. In 1927, Pope Pius XI named St. Francis Xavier, along with St. Thérèse of Lisieux, co-patron of all foreign missions.

Cross Catholic Outreach shares this great call to carry the Gospel into the world today. Francis Xavier sought to see the face of Christ in all he met. He recognized the simple fact that faith without charity is not faith at all and that to be a bearer of God’s Word to the world means that one must address the needs of body and soul together.

-Fr. Bernard Olszewski

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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.

Categories: children, Food | Tags: | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: children, Latin America | Tags: | Leave a comment

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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