The Rise of the Dreamer



I am new to Cross Catholic Outreach’s staff of writers. On my recent and first trip to Haiti, it made no difference as our amazing ministry partners and the beautiful program participants welcomed me with warm smiles and inspiring stories.

I landed on the western side of the island with certain expectations. While I wasn’t alarmed by the hustle and bustle of Port-au-Prince or by the presence of government officials toting weapons at traffic stops, I can’t say I’ll ever understand drivers’ etiquette in Haiti (though South Florida’s roadways could serve as a preparatory course).

All in all, I thought I knew what I was in for. This was a trip to the poorest country in the western hemisphere, so I had emotionally prepared myself to see and deal with the hope-draining effects of extreme poverty; a poverty so severe it robs people of optimism and weighs them down with the hard realities of daily survival.

What I wasn’t prepared for was what Kobonal Mission presented: a generation of dreamers.

During my visit, the Mission celebrated 25 years of service, and the benefits of this blessed ministry were evident when I asked children one question – “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In America, that question is pretty standard, but in poverty-ridden countries like Haiti, I wasn’t certain what to expect. Poverty doesn’t allow for the luxury of hopeful future planning, because the poor don’t even know where their next meal will come from.

Surprisingly, the children answered the question with determination and confidence. No matter how farfetched their goal was – to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, an accountant, even president of Haiti – they spoke of their dreams with optimism. Clearly, by growing up under the influence of the Mission, they had gained the ability to dream, not merely survive.

I was humbled and blessed by the light and life radiating from these children.

Transformation through renewed minds is undoubtedly happening at the Kobonal Mission. God’s love is restoring a people with a new hope for life and a confidence in who they are and who they can be in our Lord Jesus Christ. It was wonderful to see how Father Meaux and the Kobonal Mission are building a vibrant, hope-filled community in Haiti from the soul out.

-Carla S.

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Our Patron Saint

People wonder sometimes about the icon hanging on the wall of our conference room. Its presence can be traced to our beginnings in 2001 when we started the custom of taking the first hour of the day for prayer and Bible study. Soon there were ten of us gathered in the conference room every morning.

One morning after opening prayer I raised the question of whether we should continue the practice or take another approach. We went around the table and each expressed his or her opinion. Every person said much the same thing, “We should continue to give God that first hour of the day. I believe God is blessing us because we do this.”

One of the last to share was Kate. “I agree with what everyone else has said,” she began. “After all, don’t you know the story of St. Isidore?” No, we didn’t; so Kate explained.

St. Isidore was a tenth century farmworker in Spain. His coworkers began to complain that Isidore stopped working every morning and disappeared from the fields for an hour to pray in the village church. The landowner was about to confront Isidore when he noticed that an angel was now plowing alongside Isidore.

When he checked on Isidore on other days he discovered that sometimes there were two angels plowing side by side with Isidore. And sometimes while Isidore was praying in the church there would be an angel plowing his field. From his foreman the landowner learned that Isidore actually accomplished far more work than any other farmworker.

Kate concluded her story of St. Isidore by saying, “I believe that if we give God the first hour of the day, while we pray the angels will plow our fields.” And so they have.

For example, last December we received a large check from an anonymous donor. I held up a copy at devotions the next morning saying, “Looks like the angels have been plowing our fields.” Then there was the time we decided to seek a $100,000 matching grant to inspire giving at a gala. Within minutes a call came in from a foundation we had never heard of looking for a charity who could use a $100,000 grant as a matching challenge at a gala. “Looks like the angels are plowing our fields again,” we said.

Giving that first hour of our day to the Lord is an act of faith that the Lord will make us more productive and achieve even greater things through us.

When a priest gave us a beautiful icon of St. Isidore for Christmas we knew just where to hang it—on the wall of our conference room overlooking the table where we gather every morning to pray and offer our lives to the Lord, beginning with that first hour.

-Jim Cavnar
President of Cross Catholic Outreach
Guest Blogger

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Pray for Nepal!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the Nepal earthquake. We still don’t know the full extent of the loss of life, and we can only imagine how many thousands are desperately waiting for food, water, shelter and medical aid.

Please know that the local Church – a small but compassionate minority in this poor Hindu country – is depending on the support of Catholics worldwide to aid survivors and rebuild what was lost. Pope Francis himself has led the way by sending aid from the Vatican and offering a prayer during his Regina Caeli address:

“I wish to express my closeness to the populations struck by a powerful earthquake in Nepal and in neighboring countries. I pray for the victims, for the wounded, and for all those who suffer because of this calamity. May they be sustained by fraternal solidarity.”

At present, Cross Catholic Outreach has already secured Emergency Health Kits for airlift directly into Nepal. Just one of these life-saving kits enables medical workers on the ground to treat 10,000 patients for 90 days. We will also continue to reach out to donors and partners to hopefully do even more.

May God guide the hands and feet of the rescue workers to be his instruments of mercy to the many survivors still trapped amid the debris and desolation.

-Tony M.

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A wish that is fulfilling for us all…

For Brett Haubrich, “Priest for a day” activities was arranged by Cross Catholic board member, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

For Brett Haubrich, “Priest for a day” activities was arranged by Cross Catholic board member, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

People send me news articles all the time. The rarely touch my heart as this piece did. It’s about a seriously ill 11-year-old boy, Brett Haubrich, whose lifelong wish came true. But Brett’s wish didn’t involve a dream vacation or meeting a famous celebrity. No – his wish involved being a priest for a day.

Suprisingly, this amazing story also has a tie to Cross Catholic Outreach. One of our board members, Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis, helped make Brett’s dream a reality. After learning of the boy’s special wish, Archbishop Carlson invited the boy to participate in two Masses — the Chrism Mass and the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

It’s an amazing story and the photographs are heartwarming. They show a sixth-grade boy not just standing on the sidelines but actively participating in priestly duties. All of this came to pass because the Archbishop took a personal interest in a make-a-wish request and fulfilled the dream of a child.

Certainly, it’s enough that Archbishop Carlson answered the prayers of a young boy, but in my mind, this act actually highlights a greater truth. In Archbishop Carlson we see the power of compassion and the value of responding to the specific needs of others. For those of us who know Archbishop Carlson’s heart for the poor through his role at Cross Catholic Outreach, his sacrifice and service come as no surprise. This is clearly a man who daily models a Christ-like approach to addressing the needs of others.

-Chris M.

Categories: children, Priests & Nuns | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Full of Praise

In this puppet show, the students sing: “how big is God’s love? IT’S HUGE! So big you can’t be above it, so wide you can’t be beside it!”

Up in the Nicaraguan highlands, there’s a little school in Estellí that’s achieving gigantic results for poor, at-risk kids. At Father Fabretto Children’s Foundation, more than 450 at-risk children show up every day, excited and eager to learn. This is an amazing feat in itself, because most of these kids literally hated their regular classes until they started attending the Fabretto program. Now, they are full of praise for their teachers and for the Lord who made it all possible!

I spoke with one teenage student who was passionate in her praise. Her name was Esther Fajardo, and she had this huge smile on her face when she said, “The teachers here make the difference. They actually listen.”

You see the same fire in the eyes of the youngest kids. When I walked into the library, I discovered dozens of little children reading. Suddenly, they jumped up and ran to the corner of the room where they had constructed a makeshift puppet theatre. As the children donned their hand puppets, they all launched into a popular Latino folk song, singing to Father God:

Alabare, alabare, alabare, alabare
Alabare, alabare a mi Señor

In English, this translates very simply as: “I will praise, I will praise, I will praise my Lord!” Their response was unprompted. Their motive was pure. The children who sang have nothing. As I reflected on this amazing experience, I thought of our own children here in the States who have so much and who sometimes struggle with praise.

Esther Fajardo said it best. The teachers of Fabretto do make the difference. It is their dedication, talent and devotion to God that have given these young students a new lease on life. And that too is worthy of praise!

-Chris M.

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The Beauty of a Consecrated Life

Sr. Ester Paau is living her dream of working with preschool-aged children.

Sr. Ester Paau is living her dream of working with preschool-aged children.

Nine years ago, 19-year-old Ester Paau arrived at the Convent at Nazareth near Punta Gorda, Belize to complete her high school education. Growing up in a remote indigenous village, she had no opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a preschool teacher. Then the Pallottine Sisters visited to evangelize her village. They offered her an opportunity to follow her dreams by living with them and attending school.

With support from Cross Catholic Outreach, the Pallottine Sisters take indigenous girls like Ester into their home, helping them pursue an education and grow spiritually. Without this help, most girls would marry as teenagers, continuing in the cycle of poverty that had plagued their families for generations.
Ready for an adventure and the chance to conquer her dreams, Ester jumped at the chance to live with the sisters. It was a decision that would forever change her life.

“I just wanted to come and get an experience,” she told me on my recent trip to Belize. “But I ended up staying here!”

In the end, God had bigger plans for Ester than she had for herself. The Lord wanted Ester to serve him and bless others. Through participating in daily Mass, and daily prayer and Scripture reading with the sisters, Ester grew strong in the Catholic faith and her relationship with God.

When she graduated from high school, she felt called to join the order. Today, she is a nun, volunteering at a local preschool, and ministering to youth in local villages.

“God has a plan for me, I cannot deny that,” she says. “A lot of people are in need — if we are not there to help those people, who will? God has called me to this community to help. For me, it is a blessing!”

Beyond preparing girls for successful futures with spiritual and academic education, the Pallottine Sisters are also helping young women discern their vocation. Sr. Ester isn’t the first person to join the order through their education program, and I’m sure she won’t be the last.

“Pray that I will be a fit witness for God,” Sr. Ester says. “Pray that I will persevere in ministry, in my community and with all the people that I meet.”

As the Catholic Church begins the “Year of Consecrated Life,” let us pray for the men and women around the world serving the Lord through religious vocation. Let us also support orders like the Pallottine Sisters, who are helping young women like Ester dedicate their lives to religious service. At Cross Catholic, we wouldn’t be able to serve the poor without these dedicated servants of the Lord!

-Catherine M.

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Finding your place in God’s story


Amigos for Christ’s headquarters includes a unique Story Board. It’s a space for the Nicaraguan ministry’s hardworking American volunteers to write a few words about their life-changing experience serving the poor.

One visitor wrote: “’Come to me, all who thirst,’ Jesus said. This week I saw God’s kingdom in Spirit and Truth!”

Another: “Thank you, Abuelo, for showing me the face of God. May you live on this earth long enough to see your grandchildren bathing in clean water. May you live forever in the hands of Christ, your Savior and mine.”

And another: “I learned how I want to live at home – HERE! Simple. Humble. Caring. Giving. Loving. Thankful. With God on the throne.”

“This is God’s story…” the board declares in large print, inclusive of all who scribble their reflections across the giant white canvas. What an awesome reminder that we all have a part to play in the Lord’s unfolding plan. Each one of us, rich or poor, bears his image on our souls and is living out his divine narrative of redemption for the world.

At Cross Catholic Outreach, we strive to never lose sight of God’s grand story, whether we are building Amigos for Christ water systems in Nicaragua, feeding hungry children in Africa or bringing medical care to the sick in Haiti. Whatever challenges we face, we know the final chapter has already been written. Our story, your story, the poor’s story, ends with perfect peace at Christ’s throne of mercy.

-Tony M.

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The Language of Charity


Fr. Raúl Monterroso (left) and Bishop Bernabé Sagastume (middle) meet with Cross Catholic president Jim Cavnar (right)

Last month, Fr. Raúl Monterroso and Bishop Bernabé Sagastume of Santa Rosa, Guatemala came to visit us at the Cross Catholic offices. It was more than a “thank you” for our support of their ministry. It was a cordial and fraternal gathering intended to encourage unity. The highlight was when Bishop Sagastume gave a morning devotion to the entire Cross staff. He presented it in his native Spanish, with an English translator.

The devotion, “God Loves Cheerful Giver”, was powerful in any language, but it was particularly moving to our Spanish-speaking staff members. Some were brought to tears. Not being fluent in Spanish, I asked a Hispanic friend to explain why the reaction had been so strong. She said, “I heard the devotion in both languages, but it meant so much more to me in Spanish. I felt it all the way in my gut.”

I thought back to the translated words of Bishop Sagastume, and I remember how he spoke so eloquently of the power of charity and of how it is truly the essence of the Church. I also remembered that my Hispanic friend pointed out that the word “charity” in Spanish – caridad – also means “mercy” or “grace”. Caridad is a very active word in Spanish, she said. It is a beautiful word – a Christian word.

Suddenly I understood why there were so many glistening eyes in the room when Bishop Sagastume spoke of how beautiful it is to be a Christian. “It is not a burden,” he said. No es una carga. “It is like having wings.” Sino que son alas.

That image is beautiful and inspiring in any language. It speaks of how what we do as Christians – devoting ourselves to acts of charity – is never limiting. Rather, it sets us free.

-Chris M.

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St. Blaise

02-03-15In the early Fourth Century a physician named Blaise became the Bishop of Sebastea in Armenia, which is now modern day Silvas, Turkey. Not much is known of the life of St. Blaise. “The Acts of St. Blaise” give us a biographical sketch and attribute many healings and miracles to him, both during his life, and through his intercession after his death. But these “Acts” are of medieval origin and are many hundreds of years removed from the historical person.

The reputation of St. Blaise is that many wounded animals would come from the woods of their own volition to the place where Blaise lived. He would tend to their wounds and nurse them back to health.

In the “Acts of St. Blaise” we read of a woman who brought her son to him because he had a fishbone stuck in his throat and was choking. Blaise was moved to pray intensely to God for the child’s well being, and the child was cured of the choking. Hence, the modern Christian tradition of praying to St. Blaise for healing of the throat and all other ailments.

In the Catholic Church two candles are placed along side the throats of the faithful and the intercession of St. Blaise is invoked for good health. This is done on his Feast Day, February 3rd, each year.

Cross Catholic Outreach provides healing for the sick among the poorest of the poor in our world. Medical clinics, hospitals, pre-natal and post-natal home care, and education programs for good health in the developing world are some of the outreach programs we sponsor. Help us heal the sick and improve the health of our brothers and sisters in the developing world with a gift to Cross Catholic Outreach. Visit our website to see the work that we do in helping poorest of the poor. Like St. Blaise you can share the gifts God has given you to heal those who need healing most.

-Fr. Ron Mrozinski

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St. Thomas Aquinas

staThomas Aquinas was the youngest of nine children born to noble parents in the Kingdom of Sicily.  Following the tradition of the times, five-year-old Thomas was sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino to train among Benedictine monks.  He continued his studies with the Benedictine at the University of Naples but became interested in serving with the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. They emphasized a life of spiritual service among the people rather than the solitude of the monastery.

Thomas Aquinas eventually became a great scholar and writer, especially in the area of reconciling faith and reason – religion and science.  He also tried to show how believers of God should act in the world to fulfill the divine plan for all creation.  After completing his education, St. Thomas Aquinas devoted himself to a life of traveling, writing, teaching, public speaking and preaching. Religious institutions and universities alike yearned to benefit from the wisdom of “The Christian Apostle.”

Today, St. Thomas Aquinas is honored as the Patron of Catholic Schools, and the last week of January, which incorporates his feast day, is celebrated as Catholic Schools Week in all Catholic dioceses in the United States.  The legacy of his impact upon Catholic social teaching is significant too.  His defense of the poor and call to charity are among the most eloquent teachings of the church.

Cross Catholic Outreach is rooted in this long tradition of theology and ministry exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas, and we promote the compassionate care for the poorest of the poor as we serve throughout the world.

In honor of Catholic Schools Week, let’s especially remember the Church’s efforts in the developing world to educate and empower the children of the poor.  One example is Shambu Catholic Kindergarten, a Cross Catholic Outreach project that relies on our support to bless Ethiopian children with a basic education and daily nutritious meals. Read all about them in our project catalog!

-Fr. Bernard Olszewski

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