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Catholic Agency Reaching Out To The Forgotten Organization’s Leader Delivers A Message Of Hope

Sat., March 28, 1998

Half a world away from Spokane, people die of hunger.

Some are killed by disease. Others are murdered for their ethnicity or beliefs.

Rwanda, North Korea, Yugoslavia. These places may be thousands of miles away from here, but Ken Hackett brought them home.

Hackett, the executive director of Catholic Relief Services, was in Spokane on Friday to talk about crises in dozens of countries. More than 50 people came to the Catholic Pastoral Center downtown to meet him.

Hackett spoke of the civil war in Kosovo, the effects of famine in Pyongyang, the survivors of genocide in Rwanda.

But he also spoke of hope. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services are trying to improve the lives of refugees and people who are suffering around the world, he said.

“We are deeply involved in giving hope, understanding and peaceful ways to bring communities back together again,” Hackett said.

Catholic Relief Services, the international relief and development agency of the American Catholic Church, has provided assistance to the poor for more than 50 years. The organization, which has a budget of almost $250 million, helps millions of people in 80 countries.

Last year, parishes in the Spokane Diocese raised nearly $50,000 worth of aid for Catholic Relief Services. The money came from two programs - Operation Rice Bowl, which annually gives people the opportunity to donate money during Lent; and Harvest for Hope, a project that resulted in 7,400 bushels of wheat for the Quechua Indians of Bolivia.

Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad was a board member of Catholic Relief Services for six years.

“(The experience) has so enriched my life,” Skylstad told the crowd at Friday’s event.

It’s the same for Hackett, a former Peace Corps volunteer who was named Catholic Relief Services’ executive director in 1993.

The agency doesn’t just provide food and agricultural assistance, he said. It also helps build communities. The 1,800 CRS employees work through local churches and organizations to help those in need.

In Bosnia, for example, CRS played a part in organizing Parent Teacher Associations where Serb, Croatian and Muslim families work together. School buildings where Parent-Teacher Associations exist were hardly bombed because the parents of these students wouldn’t allow it, Hackett said. Together, they would stand outside the schools to protest the bombing.

“It’s about getting people to work together as part of the human family and to share goodness,” said the 51-year-old Hackett who currently lives in Maryland.

Right now, CRS is facing “enormous challenges” in Asia, Hackett said after his lecture. Because of political and financial instability, heightened by the disasters caused by El Nino, workers there are especially worried about unrest in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

The U.S. government is also “backing away from the world,” Hackett said. Foreign aid has declined by millions of dollars in the last four years, he said.

But the biggest challenge ahead for CRS is “how we get the American public to be more conscious,” he said, “to make us understand our role in the world, and as Christians, to understand our obligation to serve others.”

Americans must learn to be less narrow-minded, he said. El Nino doesn’t just affect million-dollar homes sliding away in Los Angeles; it also has caused flooding in Peru, Bolivia and Kenya. Hundreds are dead. Thousands are homeless.

Despite all the problems the agency must solve, the work is still rewarding, said Bill O’Keefe, a CSR employee who works with Hackett.

“We don’t always get to see the progress,” he said, “but when we look back, we see … good eventually does triumph.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Tags: religion

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