Project Spotlight: St. Jean Evangeliste Anti-Trafficking

In Ouanaminthe, Haiti, the majority of families live below the poverty line.

In Ouanaminthe, Haiti, the majority of families live below the poverty line.

“Sometimes we find children in bushes and sometimes these children are even abandoned at birth. They come to us crying and in shock,” Gracieuse Toussaint told me on my recent visit to the border town of Ouanaminthe in northeast Haiti.

Gracieuse is a social worker and is confronted daily with the youngest and most vulnerable victims helped by the St. Jean Evangeliste Anti-Trafficking program.

“We hear so many stories of abuse. Just recently there was one girl who was very ill. She was sexually assaulted by a trafficker who was supposed to bring her across the border where she could receive medical help. These situations are dire.”

In Ouanaminthe, Haiti, the majority of families live below the poverty line. HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are highly prevalent and many families suffer from lack of resources, education and the opportunity to advance. As a result, they pay a trafficker to bring them across the border in hopes they will find a better life in the Dominican Republic. Sadly, this “better life” often turns out to be a trap for unpaid or underpaid labor, or in extreme cases, organ donations or prostitution.

“It is so sad because these children and their families are under the impression that they will have a better future this way,” says Sister Alexandra Leonel, a Juanista Sister who runs the St. Jean Evangeliste Anti-Trafficking program, a safe transition home that offers protection and social services to these young victims.

The sisters provide spiritual, emotional and psychological support to every child who comes to the shelter while they work on finding their families or placing them in a loving orphanage.

Many of the details about their ministry are confidential in order to protect the children in their care, but what was clearly evident on my visit is the sisters’ immense desire to share the love of Christ with each child and teach them about their value in God’s eyes.

Sr. Alexandra says: “It is very difficult for these children. They already come from difficult life situations and are then thrown into an even harsher one. When they come to us, I want these children to feel safe, but also know Jesus. I want them to know that trafficking is not a part of God’s plan. God is their protector.”

-Annie O.

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Learning from the Poor

Levis Mutua is a student at Brother Beausang Catholic School in Kenya.

Levis Mutua is a student at Brother Beausang Catholic School in Kenya.

When Pope Francis exhorts us to see the face of Jesus in the suffering poor, that doesn’t mean poverty automatically makes a person Christ-like.

Even so, those who are lowly in the world’s eyes are often just the sort of people God uses to humble the high and mighty by demonstrating a life rich in faith.

One of those faith-filled people is Levis Mutua.

Levis is a teenage boy who is receiving an education at Brother Beausang Catholic School in Kenya through support from Cross Catholic Outreach. If anyone fits the description of “poorest of the poor,” Levis does. He told us: “Sometimes I have no water. I only eat the lunch that they serve us here (at school). Sometimes, especially Saturdays and Sundays, we don’t eat. Then I mostly just sleep because I’m weak. Sometimes our house is locked by the landlady and we must look for some place to sleep.”

The poverty Levis endures along with his mother and three brothers is heartbreaking. But the impressive part is that he’s not looking for a pity party. What immediately stands out about Levis, more than his malnourishment or material need, is his positive attitude, joyful demeanor and unshakable faith. When he talks about God, you can tell he’s not just saying what he thinks his sponsors want to hear. He has truly taken to heart his Catholic upbringing.

“My favorite subject (at school) is Christian religious education,” he told us during an interview in his shanty of tin and scraps, decorated with images of Jesus, Mary and Bible verses. “I’m a choir member and altar server. I like reading the Bible. My favorite verse is Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, you shall not be afraid,’ because I should not fear anybody, but only the God who is creator of my soul.”

Levis is determined to excel in school and lift his family out of poverty. But he also knows there is more to life than putting bread on the table. He says, “I would like to become a priest. I would like to serve the Lord according to my heart. I see myself serving the poor and the needy.”

May the Lord grant all of us such desire to follow Christ and love the poor.

-Tony M.

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Giving Back This Lent

Let’s make Lent 2014 one we’ll never forget!

Let’s make Lent 2014 one we’ll never forget!

During the season of Lent, I usually think about what I’m going to give up for the 40 days leading up to Easter. But on Ash Wednesday, a friend of mine suggested doing something different for Lent — giving back.

The idea made sense to me. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for me on Good Friday.  I should give back to him out of gratitude.  In his name and for his glory, I should give love all year, especially during this special time of reflection and prayer. And the possibilities for giving love are endless: I can help my elderly neighbor with his grocery shopping; I can volunteer at a local homeless shelter; or I can reach out to children in poverty around the world.

At Cross Catholic Outreach, we’re offering a special way to give back to the Lord this Lenten season — by helping destitute orphans in Mozambique.  In just 40 days, you can change the life of a brokenhearted orphan, who has his or her entire life ripped apart by the AIDS virus and extreme poverty. You can give them food, education and new life in Christ. To learn more about how you can change a life in 40 days, please click here.

So go ahead, give up chocolate, doughnuts, coffee or Facebook this Lenten season. But in addition to making these small sacrifices, will you also join me in giving back to the Lord out of gratitude?  Let’s make Lent 2014 one we’ll never forget!

-Catherine M.

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Seeds of Hope

We put our hope in God every day

We put our hope in God every day

10-year-old Judeline Vincent is one of 300 orphaned and vulnerable children benefiting from the Cross Catholic-supported Seeds of Hope program, a medical and holistic outreach in rural Lahoye, Haiti. Judeline and her mother live a day-to-day existence, barely surviving in a dilapidated shack on one meal a day.

Despite these circumstances, Judeline says: “We put our hope in God every day.”

And she says the help she receives through the Seeds of Hope program has bolstered this hope and increased her faith. Seeds of Hope provides her with health care, an education, food assistance, psychosocial support and spiritual formation. The medical attention she receives has increased her weight gain and overall levels of growth. In turn, this has improved her academic performance and allowed her to be involved in more social activities, such as sports and church groups.

“Through this program, I am beginning to taste life,” she says. “Now I enjoy every day. I have new friends. I am no longer in misery because I feel appreciated and valued like other children.”

-Annie O.

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Mission trip to Nicaragua

In rural villages in Nicaragua, children like these often travel on horseback to fetch water from remote wells and streams.

In rural villages in Nicaragua, children like these often travel on horseback to fetch water from remote wells and streams.

Recently, when I was on a mission trip in Nicaragua, I was struck by how subdued all the little children were at each of my stops. I could certainly understand. After all, I would be intimidated if strangers walked into my village. But one would think you would still meet one or two outgoing kids. Not so in Nicaragua.

Then it struck me. These children – who were all so desperately poor – were in survival mode. They had no toys. They played no games. Their lives were centered around fetching water and food for their families.

I thought, “how sad it must be for them.” And then, God reminded me who was in charge. Because at that moment, I heard something I hadn’t heard so far in the trip – the sound of children laughing. I turned and saw two little kids on horseback, traveling down the road, on their way to fetch water. But they were laughing and joking as they passed me. It was like God telling me that even though these kids may be hungry and needing clean water, he will make sure that children remain children.

-Chris M.

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My Day at the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast

Cross Catholic Outreach President, Jim Cavnar

Cross Catholic Outreach President, Jim Cavnar

Last week I attended the National Prayer Breakfast for the first time in about 25 years. What most impressed me was that the speakers emphasized that the NPB was organized by Christians who emphasized the centrality of Jesus.

Jesus the Unifier

They told stories of how Jesus was the unifier of Muslims and Christians because Muslims were told in the Koran to obey the teachings of Jesus because they saw him as an authentic prophet of God.

They gave several examples of instances in which the coming together of Republicans and Democrats as well as foreign leaders had created relationships which facilitated collaboration and peace.

Former Representative Jim Slattery of Kansas, who is Catholic, described his 12-year participation in an Abrahamic faiths committee which met regularly to discuss a variety of topics, such as just war theory This committee built positive relationships and recently two of the men who participated were appointed to high-level positions in the recently formed Rouhani government of Iran.  This put two men who had trusting relationships with Christians and Jews in the U.S. into positions where those relationships could support better understanding and trust between the U.S. and Iran.

His wife Linda Slattery shared about her efforts to mentor young women over the past 10 or 15 years and encouraged everyone to think about who they know from the younger generation that they could mentor, including children in their own family.

President Obama spoke about God many times in his talk including saying that it was the Church which led him to “accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.”  I did not detect anything in his talk that was not affirming of the spirit of the event.

Several other people spoke but all in all the speeches and sharing made two key points: 1) the National Prayer Breakfast was started by Christians to lift up Jesus.  2) The NPB was a place where God brought people together and in the name of Jesus they found strong relationships across political, cultural, and national divides.

It was clear that the NPB was a Christian event at which all faiths were welcome and included.

A Chat with the Chaplain

At a Leadership Luncheon following the National Prayer Breakfast my colleagues and I were joined at the table by Barry Black and his wife Brenda.  Black is the Chaplain of the Senate.  As such he is responsible for opening every session of the Senate with prayer.  He is a retired Navy Rear Admiral and former Chief of Navy Chaplains, and is the first African-American and the first Seventh-day Adventist to hold the position.  We had a great discussion with him.  He described himself as the pastor of the Senate which includes 7,000 people counting all the janitors, security officers, pages, staff, senators, and all others who work in the Senate.

Mr. Black said that in 2008 five of his congregation of Senators ran for president but that only one of them came to him for spiritual counsel and prayer.  I asked if he was free to disclose the name of the one Senator who came to him.  He said he wasn’t, but that he could tell us the person won the election — meaning, of course, Barack Obama.

He also related fascinating historical detail I had never heard before. As you may know, there have been many court challenges to the constitutionality of the tradition of prayer at the beginning of every session of the Senate.  Critics say that it violates the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Well…Black explained that the intent of the founders can be recognized from the fact that the session of the First United States Congress at which the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, was adopted was opened with a prayer and the next session following the adoption of the First Amendment was also opened with a prayer as has every session of Congress since.  The Congress could hardly have considered opening each session of the Senate or House with prayer an establishment of religion and forbidden by the First Amendment since they carried out the practice themselves.

I came away from the National Prayer Breakfast very heartened to know that there are many committed Christians working in our government and that they work diligently behind the scenes to create opportunities for politicians and foreign representatives to pray and share together in the name of Jesus.  St. Paul directs us to pray for our leaders and this experience gave me renewed confidence that such prayer bears fruit.

-Guest Blogger
Jim Cavnar
Cross Catholic Outreach President

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Chama’s Story

Students at Luanshya Schools learn fundamental skills like reading, writing and arithmetic to prepare them for a life free from poverty!

Students at Luanshya Schools learn fundamental skills like reading, writing and arithmetic to prepare them for a life free from poverty!

Recently, Cross Catholic Outreach received a letter that touched my heart. It was written by 12-year-old Chama Mofya, who attends a Catholic school we partner with in the Luanshya area of Zambia, run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi. With help from Cross Catholic, the sisters offer free quality education to 1,000 other poor children like Chama in central Zambia. But don’t let me tell you Chama’s story, he tells it much better himself. Here’s what he wrote:

My name is Chama Mofya. I am 12 years old doing grade 4 at Buntungwa Community School.

After the death of my parents, my grandparents took me and that is how I found myself in Luanshya.

My grandparents are very old, and I used to go and beg for food from our neighbors. Life for me was very difficult as I didn’t have a chance to go to school because there was no one in the family who was ready to care for me or pay for my education. So somebody told my grandmother about Buntungwa Community School run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi. They accepted me in the school without paying anything, and that is how I started my education.

My life after starting school has changed a lot. I go to school every day, and I am very happy because a lot of children in my community with similar backgrounds also go to school. May God bless the great works Cross Catholic Outreach does. Without this organization, a lot of children would still be very miserable and back on the streets.

I have changed a lot. I know how to read and write. At school they teach us to respect elders and love one another. When I finish school, I want to become a Catholic priest.

Lastly, I thank the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi for the love and support they show to the orphans and the needy in our community.

May God bless you all.

-Catherine M.

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A renowned scholar, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275) is often referred to as the Third Entry of Aristotle into the world.  As a Dominican friar, he basically took much of the philosophical method of Aristotle and “Christianized” it, thus preparing the way for a “Natural Theology” to be based upon deductive reasoning.

His inquiry begins in the phenomena of the world, and illustrates that the knowledge of God is based on natural processes of reasoning.  In his “Summa Theologica,” he sets forth seven proofs for the existence of God, all rooted in human experience. His works were the standard resources of study for those preparing for Holy Orders in seminaries until the mid-20th century and remain an important resource for ministry today.

The concept of “Natural Law” is derived from his writings and Thomas was a great proponent of this concept when dealing with ethics and morality in day-to-day life.
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 exhortations to charity are some of the most eloquent in the church.  In fact, it is fair to say that, as a theologian, he has had the most significant impact on Christian theology since the Middle Ages.

Cross Catholic Outreach is rooted in this long tradition of theology and ministry exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas, by serving the poorest of the poor and exhorting all to compassionately care for the poorest of the poor in our world.  If we seek to see the face of Jesus, all we need to do is look into the faces of the poor and there we find the face of Jesus Christ Crucified.

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 St. Joseph Freinademetz Primary School, a Cross Catholic Outreach partner that relies on our support to bless Kenyan children with a basic education and daily nutritious meals.  Read all about them in our project catalog!

-Father Ron M.

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A Word for the New Year

A patient at the Cross Catholic Outreach supported Minne Health Post in rural Ethiopia.

A patient at the Cross Catholic Outreach supported Minne Health Post in rural Ethiopia.

What’s your “word” for the New Year? Did you know you’re supposed to have one?

In keeping with the current trend of compressing every thought into a Twitter-sized soundbite, some have decided that traditional New Year’s resolutions just won’t do. Instead, you can opt for a New Year’s word. It’s a more abstract alternative, and it’s supposed to be less stressful than committing to losing 20 pounds by St. Valentine’s Day. For example, my 5-year-old son has chosen “healthy,” which I am hoping will encourage him to eat a vegetable or two before next Christmas!

If you’ve already made a resolution, there’s no reason why you can’t still choose a personal word for 2014. A word that will challenge and stretch you. You can turn to Galatians 5 for some great ideas: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control. The Bible is full of words that, when implemented, positively transform lives.

Ministries can have words too. If we were to pick one word that guides the underlying attitude and focus of Cross Catholic Outreach, I’d say it might be “hope” – hope in Christ, hope for the future of the poor and hope in the effectiveness of the church’s efforts around the world to aid the needy. The word is even in our motto, “delivering food, shelter and hope to the poorest of the poor.” It’s also in the Bible’s definition of faith, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This month, we’ve launched our “I resolve” campaign, in which we are challenging Catholics to “make a New Year’s resolution to build hope” by providing health care for the poor in rural Ethiopia. It’s just one of the many ways that we strive to impart hope to a world filled with despair.

Sadly, many of the people we serve have never felt hope before. For the most destitute families in developing countries, there’s nothing to celebrate on January 1, because each year is the same as the next. If they have a word that drives them to get up in the morning, it’s not a positive one. It’s “hunger” or “thirst.” There’s no use in making a commitment to a better diet or a new exercise program when they are begging for their bread and walking miles to fetch dirty water just to survive.

This year, let’s give those families something to hope for. Let’s fill their bellies, heal their wounds, put their children in school, teach them an employable trade and give them the tools to take charge of their lives. Most of all, let’s manifest the hope that is within us. Let’s live as if God really is in control, as if we’ve come another year closer to the fulfillment of God’s promise that the meek shall inherit the earth.

-Tony M.

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Good Tidings of Great Joy!

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12

The story of the birth of Christ is so wonderful and inspiring, it could have only been written by God.  From the very beginning of his earthly life, Jesus turned the world’s notions of power and privilege upside down, elevating the value of compassion and service beyond anything the world had known before.  Stepping down from the very throne room of heaven, he entered the world without dramatic fanfare; a child born to a humble virgin in a smelly and cramped stable.

The Word became flesh. God became man.  The King of Kings arrived in a way that no one could have predicted.

My favorite part of the story is just as inconceivable: the first birth announcement God made of Christ’s arrival was delivered to shepherds! In that day, shepherds were the lowest social class in the society; they were the poorest of the poor. No respectable citizen would ever invite a shepherd into their home – but God chooses those humble men to be the first to receive the joyous message of the Messiah’s birth!

At Cross Catholic Outreach, we believe that the Lord has a special place in his heart for “the least of these” – men and women like those shepherds in the first Christmas story. As we work to share the joy of the Gospel with the poorest of the poor around the world, we do so knowing Christ came to proclaim good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and set free captive souls.

He came to save the world – and we are blessed to be his instruments in that mission today.

On behalf of our ministry partners overseas, we wish you and your family a very merry Christmas, and we thank you for empowering this work of the Lord!

-Catherine M.

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