Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Parishes Work Hand-In-Hand With Atlanta CRS

Published January 18, 2007

Simone Blanchard, who speaks Spanish and studied Japanese in Japan, hopes to work overseas one day for Catholic Relief Services, but for now she is joyful to work in Atlanta for CRS, as she has been interested in people from other countries since middle school.

“I’ve always had a desire to work with people from around the world and do something where I could work and be helping to advance the Gospel of solidarity, of Christian solidarity,” said Blanchard, senior program officer in the new Atlanta regional CRS office. “The ability to continue to work for the Catholic Church and for an organization that really embraces Catholic social teaching—in fact, its foundation is Catholic social teaching—that has been a real blessing for me.”

Blanchard, like Dorothy Grillo, the director of the regional office, is busy traveling across the Southeast from Venice, Fla., to Mobile, Ala., to speak on CRS programs and resources, which include a plethora of free educational materials available through their Web site or by order for parents, teachers, catechists, youth ministers and others working in the ministry of education. Each diocese in the region will have a CRS contact, which in Atlanta is Catholic Charities’ director of parish and social justice ministry Susan Sullivan.

Blanchard, whose role emphasizes engagement with churches, schools, groups and organizations, as well as advocacy, said that CRS takes teachers on trips and they develop curriculums. There is even a Web site for children with interactive and educational activities for 8- to-13 year-olds.

“It results in outstanding quality. Teachers can be assured they are completely consistent with the teaching of the church. It’s a tremendous resource. We are very eager to make teachers aware that this resource is available at no cost.”

In 2005, while working at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Blanchard used a CRS “A Catholic Call to Justice: An Activity Book for Raising Awareness of Social Justice Issues” when she took middle school students on a field trip to a trailer park of undocumented immigrants. The group helped the children build a playground and paint bright house numbers in front of each trailer as before a baby had died there because an ambulance was unable to find the right home because they were unnumbered.

The Atlanta CRS office held recent workshops, Blanchard noted, on peace building where a featured speaker was a CRS advisor in Northern Ireland and a quality assurance professional from West Africa. While they don’t sponsor mission trips, they are also eager to provide speakers returning from CRS work overseas and others to talk on their work at churches, schools and universities.

The CRS Legislative Network also provides resources and tools to keep others informed about international policy issues and to take action on legislation before Congress. The network has campaigns on issues such as AIDS, poverty and development in Africa and an inter-religious initiative to promote peace in the Middle East.

And she is excited to work with CRS advocates like Father Victor Galier of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone. He has been a CRS global fellow since 1997 and is commissioned to speak publicly on CRS. He spent time this summer with CRS in Madagascar, an island off the coast of West Africa. He is proud that CRS serves people regardless of race, creed, gender or ethnicity and with absolutely no proselytism.

“We really do follow the Gospel mandate in CRS. We go and serve the poorest of the poor whether they are Catholic or not. We are not charged to take care of our own. We are charged to take care of the world. The whole world is ours,” he said, noting that CRS is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations serving in over 200 countries and territories.

“That is what I saw lot of in Madagascar. They do a lot of development work helping people building roads to get crops to market or helping people to learn how to grow crops more efficiently.”

He recalled as a youth being impressed with how CRS was a leading provider in delivering food and financial aid in Ethiopia. He stressed that education is important to help people in understanding things such as the 30,000 people who die each day not just because they don’t have food and water but often because they can’t get needed medical care for an illness. And the U.N. Millennium Project reports that 2.7 billion people struggle to live on $2 per day and over 40 percent of the world’s population lacks basic sanitation. He also appreciates that the funds CRS generates go a long way.

“The things I’ve learned from most people is they have some level of understanding that the rest of the world is suffering, but we don’t always understand just how basic of an effort on our part it would take to make a huge change,” he said. “With what Western society spends on food for animals, we could feed the world with that much money.”

“CRS is an easy way to get involved with a high rate of return on investment,” he continued. “They do such a good job throughout the world that the U.S. government and a lot of other aid programs give them money to do their work throughout the world because they have such deep penetration.”

He watched how in one village a well dug by CRS and USAID for $250 provided clean water for a whole village.

“They do amazing things with their resources,” he added. “For a lot of these places they can get them the money and if they can’t they can get the money to the right organization. They spread the Good News by simply bringing food to people who need it. They go out and do corporal works of mercy in our name every day.”

His parish enthusiastically uses Fair Trade coffees and other products made available through CRS and their partners and makes special collections for specific CRS programs at Lent, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceville hosted its first Work of Human Hands sale in November, selling over $10,000 of craft items while Blanchard taught two classes on Fair Trade to ensure workers earn a living wage. The pastor, Father Al Jowdy, noted how it’s easy to become overwhelmed just hearing the day’s headlines such as the spiraling crisis in Darfur, a typhoon in the Philippines and the AIDS pandemic.

“I’m delighted that Catholic Relief Services has established a regional office in Atlanta,” he said. “Often we feel so powerless, as parishioners and as a church, to affect real world change and yet here with Catholic Relief Services there is an organization that is accomplishing tremendous good on our behalf and to have them here in Atlanta to educate us” is a great resource.

He added that he watched Blanchard grow up from a very talented teenager into a “remarkable community organizer and advocate for the world’s poor, and I’m proud of her.”

St. Lawrence’s youth minister, Kelly Schreckenberger, is now planning a CRS Food Fast involving fasting, prayer and reflection on global hunger on Jan. 21 to raise awareness of CRS’s work, as part of their participation in Respect Life Month. They will discuss such themes as peace building, reconciliation, hunger and armed conflict, and educate on CRS programs that work directly with the suffering. “We’re called to respect all life for brothers and sisters worldwide.”

Schreckenberger believes it’s important for individual Catholics to reach beyond their sheltered spheres of bourgeois comfort and complacency.

“Our faith calls us to work for justice and be attentive to work for the cause of the poor worldwide and at our own parish,” she affirmed in a phone interview. “It’s so easy to see it on TV and go on with our regular lives where nothing affects us. When you really start to pay attention to what is going on, there’s a lot more you can do. Now I’ve just got to get the kids to see that.”

She plans to utilize more CRS education resources and to weave related topics regularly into the curriculum, as a complement to their local charity outreach where youth enthusiastically participate in the annual Hunger Walk downtown and the Catholic HEART Workcamp.

“It’s just getting the word out to know what’s going on because the kids just aren’t exposed to it otherwise.”