New York City’s newly installed prelate, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, made his first appearance at Fordham on April 22, at the keynote address of a conference celebrating the University’s partnership with Catholic Relief Services.
“Working Toward Global Justice” linked Fordham alumni who work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in impoverished nations with students who are interested in joining relief agencies or interning with CRS. The partnership is in its 10th year.
Archbishop Dolan, who chairs the CRS Board of Directors, said making his first visit to Fordham during an event promoting the international relief group was nothing less than providential.
“I may have conflicting obligations, but I do not have conflicting loves, and two of them are very obvious this evening,” he said. “The church’s dedication to faith and reason, so beautifully exemplified by Father McShane here at Fordham, and the church’s dedication to charity, that is so magnificently illustrated through the work of Catholic Relief Services.
“For this great University to host Catholic Relief Services proves that the church has both a head and a heart, and it’s a great evening, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
In his keynote address, “Faith, Justice and Solidarity in the 21st Century,” Michael Wiest (FCRH ’67), executive vice president of CRS, detailed the group’s history. He charted its growth from helping European refugees in the aftermath of World War II to its current incarnation, which was completely overhauled after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
The disintegration of former communist states like Yugoslavia made work difficult for CRS, but nothing had prepared it for the fallout of Rwanda, when at least 500,000 people were killed over 100 days.
“Rwanda was one of those countries that was a premier country for Catholic Relief Services. We knew that these hatreds existed between the Tutsi and the Hutu community, but we called that politics. That’s not what we were about. We were about social-economic development,” he said.
After the crying, drinking and praying that ensued among staff members, CRS leadership came together to reflect on the future of the group. What they decided was that CRS had lost the fullness of its Catholic identity.
“We were so focused on the United States government as the source of our resources that we came to see ourselves as a mini USAID,” he said. “We failed to see ourselves as a church. The teachings of the church did not permeate the work of CRS in Africa.”
The solution, he explained, was to refocus the agency’s priority toward justice, and to articulate it in such a way that even a Muslim driver in Morocco would feel he was a better Muslim by virtue of the fact that he was working for a Catholic organization.
“We came to believe that man, by virtue of the fact that he was created in the image and likeness of God, is sacred, and that we achieve the fullness of our humanity in relationships with each other,” he said.
Wiest was followed by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who complimented Wiest and CRS for recognizing that turning legality and human rights into justice takes a clear ethical component.
The event was sponsored by Fordham’s graduate program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED).