Finding your place in God’s story

03-10-15

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

02-25-15

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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Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Each year the church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles,  remembered for his dramatic conversion documented in The Acts of The Apostles.

As a young man, Paul led the persecution of Christians.  He was a staunch Pharisee who didn’t want Judaism torn apart by the “new sect” of Christ followers.  On the road to Damascus Paul met Jesus Christ directly and personally, and the encounter changed his life forever. He was baptized as a Christ follower and began his mission to the Gentiles, preaching about the Lord and converting many.

For most of us, conversion doesn’t happen as dramatically as it did with Paul; it fact, it is more of an ongoing process.  We experience Christ in our daily lives, and in small ways we begin to see our world differently than before.

Cross Catholic Outreach wants to be a catalyst for seeing our world differently.  We believe people are changed when they see reality through the eyes of the poorest of the poor whom we serve.  Knowing their hardships and suffering changes are perspective on poverty and grows our compassion for people in need.

As an Outreach Priest for Cross, I bring these stories of the poor into the parishes of America. I share both the beauty of the poor and their needs. These are life changing experiences.  The plight of the poor cannot be ignored once you know them as people and understand their daily realities.

I encourage you to make room for the poor in your life.  Take time to educate yourself about their struggles and hardships.  Draw from their faith and be moved by their perseverance. Then, share your resources with them.  Help alleviate their suffering.  I’m convinced conversion will happen in our lives when we see the suffering Christ in them.

As we walk the road to the Kingdom, may our conversion continue, and may the poor reap benefits from our seeing the world in a different light!

-Fr. Ron Mrozinski

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New Beginnings

Casa Alianza, a Cross Catholic-sponsored shelter for teen moms in Nicaragua

Casa Alianza, a Cross Catholic-sponsored shelter for teen moms in Nicaragua

I was walking the halls of Casa Alianza, a Cross Catholic-sponsored shelter for teen moms in Nicaragua, when I heard a story that literally stopped me in my tracks. It involved a 14-year-old girl who knocked on the front door of the home, saying, “I am told I am pregnant. What does that mean?”

As shocking as this may sound, stories like this are all too common in a developing country like Nicaragua. The sad fact of life is that most Nicaraguan girls lack the education and social stability American girls are blessed with. This helps explain why the teen pregnancy rate in Nicaragua is the highest in the world, outside of Africa.

Thankfully, there are loving homes like Casa Alianza, where doctors and medical students volunteer their time to care for teen moms and their precious babies. I was particularly moved by the story of Adriana, 15, who was having a tough time recovering from a history of beatings and abuse. Thanks to the patience and expertise of the Casa Alianza staff, she found a new lease on life. She said, “I am so excited about the possibility of my baby daughter coming into the world. I can’t wait to hold her in my arms.” I was also uplifted by the words of Gabriela, 16, who said, “I believe my little girl is a gift from God and I have a wonderful future ahead of me. I want to give that future to my baby.”

These words were spoken by a girl who had been abandoned by her family and who had no education or job prospects. As I listened to Gabriela’s comment, it hit me. All things are possible with God. She is being healed through the love of Christ and now wants to share that profound love with her child.

It is a new beginning for Gabriela – and for her new family. And that is worth celebrating.

*Actual names mentioned in this blog have been changed to protect identities.

-Chris M.

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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.

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