When the Poor Help the Poor

Alina with her husband outside their Cross Catholic-funded house.

Alina with her husband outside their Cross Catholic-funded house.

It’s a great feeling to be able to give back to someone who is always giving to others.

An example I’d like to spotlight is Alina Previlda.

The 50-year-old Haitian woman lives in a rural community where we support a Catholic mission led by Father Glenn Meaux. Alina and her husband are humble farmers leading a hand-to-mouth existence, but their poverty doesn’t stop them from being generous to others. In fact, the local children call Alina “Grandma” because she is always so kind to them.

Whenever the Mission gives Alina food, this sweet woman gathers additional ingredients, prepares a meal and invites the neighbor children to eat with her, because she knows how hungry they are. She is a woman of faith who strives to be a light, and it shows. She told us, “I keep the Word in my heart and share it with my neighbors.”

Sometimes, Alina has more than 10 children in her house at once for meals…all the more reason why we needed to replace her dilapidated home with a sturdy new concrete house. And that’s exactly what we did! Alina loves her new “palace” with a beautiful hilltop view, and she looks forward to filling her plot of land with fruit-bearing trees.

May this Haitian woman’s “widow’s mite” of generosity be an example to us all.

-Tony M.

Categories: housing, poverty | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Feast Day of St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney

Today we celebrate the feast of St. John Vianney, also known as the Cure’ of Ars. His era was not unlike our own.  There was much confusion about life, greed, and a seeming lack of caring for truth and justice.

Ordained a diocesan priest, John Vianney looked forward with hope to better days for the world and the church.  He had a strong penchant for reform and saw that the formation of candidates for the priesthood was very weak.  He worked diligently on preparing a curriculum which was both rigorous academically and challenging spiritually.  He succeeded and his model is the model still used in Catholic seminary education today.

He showed by example how to minister to others, so that he preached not only by word but more strongly by example.  It was St. Francis of Assisi who said to his followers, “Preach always.  When necessary use words”.  John Vianney epitomizes that axiom of St. Francis.

Look on our website and you find many education projects which Cross Catholic Outreach helps sponsor.  Young people educated in these programs are the future priests and religious of the church in the developing world.  They receive a strong Christian based education and learn the elements of their faith.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit many will answer the call to serve the Lord as a priest or religious, thus giving hope and comfort to many.  The work of St. John Vianney continues.  Will you join us in supporting the work of Catholic education in the developing world so that there will be ministers of the Gospel in the generations to come?

-Fr. Ron Mrozinski
Guest Blogger

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The Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491, one of thirteen children in a family of minor nobility in northern Spain. He grew up at a time of great adventurers like Christopher Columbus and dreamed of gaining fame in battle, so he joined the army of Spain to do just that. When Ignatius was severely wounded in a battle with the French, his days of knighthood ended – and his spiritual adventures began.

While recuperating from his injuries he found himself in a hospital where the only books available to him were the Bible and the histories of the saints. Inspired by the courage of the saints, Ignatius felt God was calling him to a greater purpose and he turned his life over to the will of God. He ultimately turned his attention to study, the priesthood, and the foundation of a new religious order, the Society of Jesus. Ignatius felt the Society had the potential to change the hearts of people to serve God and the world. To achieve this, he rooted his heart and those of his followers in the knowledge and love of Jesus.

We at Cross Catholic Outreach also believe our ministry must be rooted in the knowledge and love of Jesus, and that such devotion is the source of all true transformation. We seek to accomplish this by meeting the physical needs of people with food, water, and shelter, as well as through the lastingly impact of education. Education, we have found, allows our poor sisters and brothers to break the cycle of poverty enslaving them, giving them new opportunities and a greater hope for the future.

On this feast of Ignatius of Loyola we can all recommit ourselves to carrying out our own part in transforming the world as we pray Ignatius’ prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

-Fr. Bernard Olszewski
Guest Blogger

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Am I Listening?

Carlos & Jose

Carlos & Jose

Majestic mountains lined our views on the bumpy trek back to the mission grounds after a long day in the field. The sky created a peach-blue haze around the peaks, like a watercolor painting hanging over the isolated villages in Zacapa.

I suppose there’s a juxtaposition there. I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape after hours in the dense Guatemalan heat rescuing malnourished babies, transporting them to Esperanza de Vida’s nutrition center for care and saving them from the ill fate that awaited them had we not made it in time.

God’s creation had a restored significance under the emotional burden of child rescues. Suddenly, overlooked scenery became art to be appreciated — and the mountains against the sun were breathtaking. They were the backdrop while listening to Carlos Vargas, Director of Esperanza de Vida, recount his first rescue 25 years ago. The rescue that launched this life-changing ministry.

“I was looking for an old man when I heard a baby crying and we went to see,” Carlos said. “The mother had killed her oldest son and left Jose to die. She had mental problems. Jose was a year and a half old, eating rotten beans from a bowl and sitting on the floor. The beans had a layer of foam over them and smelled horrible,” Carlos described. “He cried all the way to the hospital, and in his eyes, God spoke to me. I’m not an emotional fanatic, but I believe that is how God speaks to me – through children. Little babies. I believe that’s the way God talks to me.”

Carlos has a very matter-of-fact personality. He tells it like it is and stands by his convictions, “I can’t tell you I’ve had a dream and God told me this and that. No. I’ve always had my feet on the ground. I think it would scare me to death to hear a voice from heaven.” Yet, Carlos had the faith to recognize Christ’s voice in Jose’s cries.

Carlos adopted Jose. Now, at 25, Jose the first rescue in Zacapa is a rescuer alongside his father, saving starving children from the same mountains he was pulled out of. A full-circle miracle.

I was so moved by this story for various reasons. Mainly, the detail in Christ’s call. We serve a God that not only knows who we are enough to tailor his voice to the ways in which we would hear him, but a God who knows what we can be and addresses us accordingly.

God’s unique call sprung Carlos into action and into a commitment to serve the poor in his country. It was a checkpoint for my personal walk with Christ and my purpose as a believer. What is he saying? How is he saying it? And am I listening?

I make sure to look for him, to listen for him, in the small things. In the lyrics of a song, the fog right before the rain, the gentle smile on a stranger’s face or the open opportunities to be a light in the darkness of someone’s life. The details are so important that I find myself in awe of his presence everywhere.

I’m still new to South Florida, and the ocean is my favorite poem authored by him. Grandeur and simplicity wrapped in one element; he’s so creative. My amazement turns into praise and it continually shapes and molds my faithfulness.

I guess it’s easy to feel compelled after facing the life or death of an innocent infant in a poverty-stricken, forgotten society in the mountains of a developing country. But purpose can get lost in the shuffle when we come back to the office, back to our routines and the return to first world problems.

“I believe many times we get to a place where we can’t find or see a solution. We need someone to take us by the hand and help us,” Carlos said. “That’s how we hear God’s voice, through people saying ‘help me’.”

I remember this and know that God is always talking; I just have to keep listening.

-Carla S.

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

St. Thomas the Apostle – Patron Saint of India

St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Thomas the Apostle

Early Patristic literature and Christian tradition speak of St. Thomas the Apostle bringing the Christian faith to India.  According to these writers, he landed at the port of Mylapore and baptized several Jewish converts there.  Kerala, the most Christian part of India, claims him as the Apostle who first preached the good news to the ancient people there.

Not much is known historically about St. Thomas the Apostle, but he is revered by the Christian church all over India and by Hindus and Muslims as well. Tradition claims that St. Thomas the Apostle began his working life as a merchant and that he took care of the material needs of the people while preaching the gospel.  This combination of word and action gave credibility to his preaching.  People not only heard the good news, but they also saw powerful evidence of its life-transforming power.  In St. Thomas, they encountered a faith filled man committed to God and willing to serve selflessly and compassionately for the benefit of others.

At Cross Catholic Outreach, our goal is to create the same impact in the developing countries where we serve.  Like St. Thomas, we know that the gospel becomes more real in peoples’ lives when they see the heartfelt compassion believers have for them.  Donors who contribute to Cross Catholic Outreach empower this work of love and mercy.  Their gifts for the poor help fulfill the church’s mission to preach the good news and make known God’s love for all people in Christ.

Please join this vital mission by supporting Cross Catholic Outreach with a gift to serve the poor.  Help make the gospel become vibrant and visible to those who need to experience the love of God in Christ in a tangible and concrete way.

-Father Ron Mrozinski
Guest Blogger

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All Things Through Christ

Because of a scholarship to Pallotti High School through Cross Catholic Outreach, Keili is working towards her dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

Because of a scholarship to Pallotti High School through Cross Catholic Outreach, Keili is working towards her dreams of becoming a pediatrician.

One rainy day in Belize, I found myself in the front seat of a pickup truck driving down a creek that had once been a road. The driver assured me the engine wouldn’t stall, but I wasn’t convinced. As we slowly made our way through three feet of water, I prayed I wouldn’t need to climb through the window and push the truck to our destination.

When we finally arrived, I saw an old house on stilts – a typical Belizean home design because of the country’s tropical climate – where Pallotti Catholic High School student Keili Mejia lives. At that moment it hit me. Keili and her family face these flooded roads regularly. How does she get to school each morning? How often does she have to ford through three feet of water just to get out of the neighborhood?

As I walked up the steps to the front door, I was greeted warmly by 13-year-old Keili and her family. She told me she is extremely grateful to have received a scholarship through Cross Catholic Outreach, and is thrilled for the opportunity to get an education and improve her life.

“I need the scholarship because it is only my dad who works,” she told me. She explained that her father is a security guard, and her mother stays at home to raise her little brother.

This bright-eyed 13-year-old has big plans for the education she’s receiving; she wants to be a pediatric doctor!

Even though Keili faces challenges, like the frequent flooding, she knows she can achieve her dreams with the Lord by her side. Her favorite verse is, “Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’

“You can do anything with God,” she says. “When I want to do something hard, I remember that verse and I know I can do it.”

My concerns about how the family coped with the flooding had been answered: Keili faces her difficulties with confidence with the Lord by her side. Nothing – not the flooded road or her family’s poverty – will stop her from following God’s plan for her life.

When we got back in the car to leave, the road didn’t seem as treacherous as it had before. Keili reminded me of an important truth: what seems hard to me is not hard for God. I can trust him no matter what circumstances I face.

-Catherine M.

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

The science is in: anti-poverty programs work!

The Kobonal Haiti Mission’s animal husbandry program is one of many Cross Catholic sponsored initiatives helping the poor climb out of poverty.

The Kobonal Haiti Mission’s animal husbandry program is one of many Cross Catholic sponsored initiatives helping the poor climb out of poverty.

We love supporting programs that lift the poor out of poverty. The theory is: give a man a fishing rod instead of a fish, and he’ll be equipped to feed himself. You’ll have supported real, lasting change.

The logic seems sound, and we have a plethora of anecdotal evidence from our overseas ministry partners to back it up, but what we don’t often see is hard scientific data on the subject (probably because it’s so difficult to gather). But now, scientists are starting to discover what we’ve already known instinctively.

This month, the journal Science published the results of a randomized, controlled trial of an animal husbandry program. Through this study, the researchers tested a charity program the same way they would test a new drug, comparing the group that received aid with a control group that did not receive aid. The test was done in six countries, and the beneficiaries received livestock, training, financial aid, savings accounts and health support.

The results?

In their own words: “One year after the end of the intervention…income and revenues were significantly higher in the treatment group in every country.” You can read the details here, but the gist is that the anti-poverty program worked. Families who received aid took a modest step forward out of extreme need. The overall effect was positive, despite a major setback in one country where many animals got sick and died.

This is great news! But as we often point out, finances don’t tell the full story. God doesn’t measure success in terms of material prosperity alone. That’s why Cross Catholic Outreach seeks out projects that nurture the whole person – body, mind and soul. Our anti-poverty efforts, such as the “Farm Animals for the Poor” program in rural Haiti, are an investment that reaps spiritual rewards no scientific study can fully quantify.

Matthew 6:20-21 shows us what true freedom from poverty looks like: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

-Tony M.

Categories: field report, Haiti, poverty | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: Disaster Relief | Tags: , | Leave a comment