My Faith Story within the Story of Catholic Relief Services – Tristan Balbin

Conference Report

My Faith Story within the Story of Catholic Relief Services, by Dr Carolyn Y. Woo

Boston College, much like the Catholic University of Paris, the latter of which French people usually refer to using its original name, the Institut Catholique de Paris, is, at its core, a Catholic institution of higher education. As such, I thought that it would be highly relevant, as an exchange student, to attend a conference structured upon the idea of faith, and the experience of one individual with their faith on an international level – with my own critical insight on Catholicism being another reason to attend. If anything, I believed that such a conference ought to provide some insight on how Catholic faith is experienced by people around the world, and ultimately serve as an objective testimony of Catholicism being a vector for improvement in the lives of millions, in spite of the flaws individuals such as I may find within it.

 

The Conference

The conference itself started with a word of introduction by Thomas Andrew, current director of the C21, one of the Catholic institutions working within Boston College. Mr. Andrew, after quoting both St. Peter and St. Andrew, notably spoke of the need to keep the Catholic Church modern, in touch with the times and with its believers, which he stated was one of the goals of C21, as it literally stands for “Church of the 21st Century”. He then introduced Dr Carolyn Y. Woo, and spoke of her work as current President and Chief C.E.O. of the Catholic Relief Services, before letting her usher in the main part of the conference.

 

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo.

As she herself explained throughout the conference, it is her background as a Catholic individual from Hong Kong, and the Catholic education she received during her childhood, along with the fact that she was herself a refugee, that allows her to display the resilience that is required as the leader of a relief organization, and that makes her efficient as such. She comes across as candid, as she openly admitted to not knowing much about African geography when she first joined C.R.S[1], and as humble as well, as I recall that Mr. Andrew had to intervene and ask questions on her own experience and history for her to provide details on them, as she would otherwise have focused almost exclusively on what the C.R.S has achieved.

Dr. Woo is a graduate from Purdue University – she was one of the faculty members, and her work both at Purdue and at the University of Notre-Dame granted her recognition as a capable individual when it comes to business strategy – and she brought her experience in this field to CRS when she joined the non-governmental organization.

 

The Catholic Relief Services

I was quite surprised to see that far from talking about her own achievements, Dr. Woo preferred to focus on the achievements of the C.R.S, and on their goal of initiating lasting change, to not merely provide relief to the plight of people in underdeveloped countries, but to actually and actively participate in improving their living conditions. She showcased how, from 1990 to 2010, thanks to the efforts of C.R.S, two billion people had gotten access to clean water, and how, in that same timespan, the organization had managed to provide much needed medical relief and development, which notably led to a decrease in the number of children born with H.I.V, and to a significant decrease in the number of deaths before age 5.

On the whole, C.R.S is an organization dealing mainly with long-term planning and development. It is a complex organization that deals with people and institutions regardless of their own faith, and they are a donation-based organization. They pride themselves on being able to use 92% of their resources to programs in the field, using only 8% to keep themselves working, and their goal is, as Dr. Woo said during the conference, to “make sure that God’s bounty reaches everyone as needed”.

Working For a Better World.

Surprisingly, the book itself was not the main topic of the conference. It is a testimony to Dr. Woo’s faith acquisition and how it played into working for C.R.S, but as far as I recall, the book was only mentioned once. Mr. Andrew did mention it when he felt the need to ask questions to Dr. Woo about her own personal history, but my expectation of the book being a central part of the conference was not met.

The book was published in 2015 by Our Sunday Visitor Inc., and it is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Dr. Woo’s growing up and education, along with her acquisition of the Catholic faith, while the second part deals with her experience within C.R.S. After reading it, I found it interesting how her faith and her being a refugee appear to be linked to each other, and how that affected her growth as an individual, and possibly led her to become part of the Catholic Relief Services.

 

Conclusion

This conference was, as you would expect, very interesting. Dr Woo proved to be a model of humility, and, judging from the achievements of the CRS, as capable as a leader at CRS as a dean and faculty member at the Notre-Dame University and at Purdue University. As I wrote, she comes across as a candid and modest individual, perhaps to a fault to anyone feeling curious about her own history. The achievements of the Catholic Relief Services are arguably impressive, and if anything, they are a testimony to the good Catholicism can do unto others – which, coming from someone who is usually fairly critical of religious organizations such as I, is not something to be lightly acknowledged.

If anything, I regret that I wasn’t able to get a decisive idea, during the conference, of how people around the world experience their faith, and of how Carolyn Woo experiences her own, but, since I was offered a copy of her book, the reading of it made up for that. As to what we members of the I.C.P may learn from this conference, I believe that the knowledge of other universities organizing such conferences should inspire us to, much like C21 does, have Catholicism, to have one’s own faith keep with the times, to evolve.

Also, I have had the opportunity to converse for a moment with Dr. Woo, and she would be interested in sharing her own experience as a Catholic and as a director of the Catholic Relief Services with French Catholics, should an opportunity arise – she has knowledge of the Secours Catholique as well, which is why I would believe that organizing a conference in order to share how Catholic relief and help is provided from one continent to another could be a good idea – inviting important members of the Secours Catholique to participate in such a meeting could very well be beneficial to all.

 

Tristan Balbin

Master Anglais

 

Works Cited

  • Woo, Carolyn Y. Working For A Better World, 2015. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. Print.
  • http://www.crs.org/. Last accessed January 12, 2015. Web.

[1] Most of the C.R.S relief and developmental efforts, as Dr. Woo seemed to say, appear to take place on the world’s poorest continent, Africa.


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