CRS chairman says agency's work exemplifies Francis' focus on mission
Catholic News Service photo
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has been appointed chairman of the Catholic Relief Services board of directors by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Archbishop Coakley is pictu red in 2011 after receiving a pallium from Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.
Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE — Before and since his election as pope in March, Pope Francis has talked and written a lot about the mission of the church and the responsibility of every Catholic to proclaim the good news through word and deed.
For the new chairman of Catholic Relief Services, one of the best examples of answering that call is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
"Mission is the very essence of our identity, of who we are" as Catholics, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City said in an interview at CRS headquarters in Baltimore.
"It's not just what we do but it's who we are, so it calls for a pastoral conversion, really a new way of looking at who we are and what we do, to focus outward, which is really what the mission of Catholic Relief Services is all about," he said.
"It's focusing us outward to recognize the needs of our brothers and sisters who are hungry and suffering and living in poverty, or suffering from natural disasters around the world," he told Catholic News Service in early December.
Archbishop Coakley has served on the CRS board for about two years. On Nov. 19, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who is president of the U.S. bishops' conference, named him CRS chairman. He succeeded Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.
He has headed the Oklahoma City Archdiocese since February 2011. A Wichita, Kan., diocesan priest, he was bishop of Salina, Kan., for six years before being named to Oklahoma City.
"To be Catholic is to be universal in our outlook. ... We can't put up fences or boundaries around our Catholicity, it is universal in its embrace and in its scope," Archbishop Coakley said. "That's what we have been hearing from the Holy Father, that's what he has written about in 'Evangelii Gaudium.' (He) has been a tremendous source of encouragement and affirmation and given us plenty to ponder and to embrace at Catholic Relief Services."
The archbishop called CRS "an incredible organization" and stressed what "a great privilege" it is for him to work with the agency.
As a bishop, he may be more familiar with the work of CRS than the average Catholic, he said, but board service has given him a deeper appreciation of the agency's work.
Last September, he took his first trip as part of a CRS delegation -- to Rwanda. There he saw firsthand the professionalism of the staff, "the deep faith of the staff that's on the ground, both the national and international staff."
"We served over 100 million people last year in more than 90 countries. ... That's something I don't think I was fully aware of until I came on to the board," Archbishop Coakley said.
U.S. Catholics become most aware of CRS "when we have a natural disaster somewhere on the planet, somewhere around the world, because CRS is always the first one there," he noted, like in the Philippines, where Super Typhoon Haiyan caused massive devastation and loss of life Nov. 8.
CRS and other development officials predict rebuilding there will take up to five years.
Archbishop Coakley noted CRS has been in that country since the 1940s.
"It's one of our oldest permanent and continuous missions," he said. "We'll be there for many years to come. Even if the storm victims have fallen off the front page of newspapers they have not fallen off the screen here at CRS."
He expects to visit the Philippines with a CRS delegation in early February.
Most Catholics also know of CRS through its Lenten Operation Rice Bowl program, which encourages them to give up a meal and donate the money saved to help fund development programs aimed at increasing global food security.
"That's been a very effective tool for developing Lenten spirituality, engaging Catholics in the pews, in schools, to understand the challenges of global poverty and need and integrating that into a true Lenten spirituality focused on prayer and fasting and almsgiving," Archbishop Coakley said.
"But there are many other types of programs ... that many of our Catholic people are not as aware of," he said, "and we're certainly addressing that strategically, how to tell the story, how to get the word out more effectively, how to engage more Catholics, college students, university students, seminarians, pastors, all kinds of audiences."
CRS already has partnerships with at least three Catholic universities through a program called Scholars in Global Solidarity. In April, CRS and Villanova University hosted Global Development Day on the campus of the Catholic University; among other things students learned about careers in development and poverty relief.
Another "practical way CRS is engaging young people" and "raising their awareness" was on display at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November, said Archbishop Coakley, who was there. The event drew 23,000 high school students from all over the country.
CRS had an exhibit there called "Helping Hands" to give youths a chance to package various kinds of grains to be shipped around the world to help combat global hunger.
Young people have "such an energy, such an openness, such a willingness ... to put their faith into action," he told CNS. Service to the poor and needy also often leads them "to a deeper faith, so it works in both directions," he added.