A Passion for Helping Sparks a Global NetworkBy Patrick Carney
Jerry Zurek first understood that he "is" Catholic Relief Services while digging ditches in Guatemala.
"To me, this is the Church. This is the very
best of the Church. This is the Church witnessing to the Gospel. It's
witnessing to the truth that all human beings have the right to live and to
live in dignity."
—Sue Toton, Associate Professor of Social Ethics, Development Ethics and Justice Education at Villanova University
Jerry, a communications professor at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania, arrived at a worksite with his students to help a community hit by mudslides. He noticed a sign that said: "This is a CRS project."
"For that moment, I was CRS on the ground," says Jerry. "I was really struck by the fact that we can…be working in partnership with CRS. My students were digging, and they were CRS."
For 10 years now, Jerry and his wife, Sue Toton, have been committed to working with CRS because of their passion for helping the poorest of the poor.
"There's very little I can believe in these days," says Sue, an associate professor of social ethics, development ethics and justice education at Villanova University. "I find it unacceptable that there is so much human misery, and I've dedicated my professional life to addressing it and eliminating it. CRS gives me the opportunity to be part of a larger effort. I want to share that with my students, my university."
She adds, "To me, this is the Church. This is the very best of the Church. This is the Church witnessing to the Gospel. It's witnessing to the truth that all human beings have the right to live and to live in dignity."
CRS Does More Than Deliver Supplies
A decade ago, Jerry and Sue didn't know much about CRS. "I had heard that there was an organization called CRS," says Sue, "but it didn't mean a whole lot to me. I really thought that CRS were all these U.S. engineers and nurses and doctors carrying water pipes, medical supplies and bags of food. I had no idea about the complexities of the institution."
As she got to know CRS, Sue found that "its complexities started to unfold for me, and I just became intrigued with it." That discovery eventually led to an official partnership between CRS and Villanova. Sue's relationship with CRS began when she attended the agency's presentation at a conference. Impressed by that talk, she decided to incorporate CRS into her curriculum at Villanova. Soon afterward, she began bringing CRS guest speakers to her classroom and to nearby Cabrini College.
In 2005, Jerry traveled to Brazil to see CRS human trafficking projects at work.
"I met a husband, a wife and their three teenage daughters," he says. "They were working for a partner of CRS in rescuing slaves in the Amazon. That just brought home to me that they were CRS—that family of five was CRS. The idea of what a partnership is and how CRS does not come in heavy handed and flat footed but works subtly and quietly through partners really impressed me."
After seeing CRS projects in Brazil and Guatemala, Jerry knew he could apply his expertise to spreading the word about how the Catholic Church is helping poor and vulnerable people in nearly 100 countries around the world.
"I wanted to give something back to CRS," he says, "and I came up with the idea for the Global Solidarity Network."
Campus Ambassadors Engage Students in Solidarity
After establishing a partnership between CRS and Cabrini College, Jerry cofounded an online campus community to facilitate social justice education, advocacy and action between CRS staff in the field and students and faculty on the campuses of Catholic institutions in the United States. Called the Global Solidarity Network, the program uses technology such as online webcasts to bring CRS speakers to a number of classrooms at once. Cofounder Mary Laver is the program's advisor.
The network shares news of the good work Catholics across the United States do every day through their support of CRS. And Sue and Jerry remain committed to spreading the message of CRS on their campuses because they believe in the CRS mission.
"For me, personally, global poverty is not academic issue," says Sue. "People's lives are at stake, and I really do believe education has a role to play in relieving and eliminating human suffering. I thought CRS had the potential to bring us closer to the poor and marginalized."
Patrick Carney is a CRS writer, editor and web producer. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.