"Aid means giving from what one has to alleviate another's suffering; that is good, necessary and urgent...but solidarity goes further...Solidarity means not only giving but self-giving."
-Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino
In each US diocese, Catholic Relief Services fulfills its mission through the work of a diocesan director. Appointed by the bishop, the diocesan director is CRS’ point of contact in a diocese, educating Catholics broadly about global solidarity and the work of CRS. The director coordinates participation in CRS programming (Rice Bowl, Food Fast, Fair Trade, etc.) and also channels information from CRS to the diocese in the event of global emergencies.
From the founding of the Diocese of Metuchen in 1981, the task of CRS diocesan director usually fell to a Catholic Charities executive, who was involved on a daily basis in the domestic side of applying Catholic social teaching.
In July 2002, when Fr. Joseph J. Kerrigan succeeded Catholic Charities’ Neil Granstrand as Metuchen’s CRS director, he created a new structure for representing CRS in the diocese: an all-volunteer team. The group met for the first time in November 2002, and several founding members of what was then called “CRS Metuchen” are still part of today’s Catholic Charities Solidarity Team: Jerry Lynch, Austin Kosik and Jim Ryan.
CRS Metuchen sought to model its volunteer program on the structure of CRS’ operation in Baltimore, so the Metuchen team had volunteers specializing in Fair Trade, youth programming, Rice Bowl, and other programs. The team traveled annually to Baltimore for updates, and consulted regularly with CRS staff for ideas on how to use local Rice Bowl funds, how to start Fair Trade programs in parishes, resources for youth, and many other tips.
2003-14: Global Solidarity Partnership
In 2003, CRS Metuchen was approached by Catholic Relief Services to participate in a (since-discontinued) agency program called Global Solidarity Partnership.
Connecting a U.S. diocese with one in the developing world, in a mutually-enriching relationship, Global Solidarity Partnership provided opportunities for project support, education, exchange visits, faith sharing and advocacy on behalf of the world's poor and marginalized.
CCST Global Solidarity Partnership took its inspiration from the virtue of solidarity, as described in the 1997 U.S. Bishops' statement Global Solidarity " ...action on behalf of the one human family, calling us to help overcome the divisions in our world...We are members of a universal Church that transcends national boundaries and calls us to live in solidarity and justice with peoples of the world."
Officers at CRS headquarters matched the Metuchen Diocese with the Diocese of Santa Rosa in coastal Guatemala. The Santa Rosa Diocese was formed in 1996 from the southern portion of the Archdiocese of Guatemala City. Although spared much of the civil war violence that plagued the country from 1960-96, the Diocese of Santa Rosa was burdened with extreme rural poverty, with many living precariously in semi-feudal conditions in remote villages. Vulnerability to oceanic storms was an aggravating condition, most especially the 1998 Hurricane Mitch.
The partnership was agreed upon in 2003, with the first public actions occurring in early 2004. Leadership of CRS Metuchen's Global Solidarity Partnership consisted of CCST volunteers and designated Catholic Charities representatives from the Diocese of Metuchen, along with our counterparts in Santa Rosa. Staff at CRS Guatemala's country program office in Guatemala City, headed at the time by Lane Bunkers, provided guidance and complemented the relationship.
CRS Metuchen prepared for the partnership by initiating small development or fellowship projects with other church partners around the world: the Philippines, Ghana, Slovakia and Lebanon, to name a few.
On a snowy New Jersey morning in January 2004, the first delegation from Metuchen headed for Santa Rosa on a ten-day mission to learn and share. Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski led the nine-member unit, comprised of three clergy, three lay parish representative, and three staff of Catholic Charities. The charge was to meet with Bishop Julio Bethancourt in Santa Rosa, along with his Diocesan Pastoral Council, hear their needs and priorities, and to formally partner with the Diocese of Santa Rosa in solidarity for the mutual benefit of both Dioceses and for the Church. The delegation also visited many representative communities of the three regions of Santa Rosa to get a sense of the culture and to begin the process of relationship building over time; and while in the capital of Guatemala City, a country orientation was presented by the CRS Guatemala Team. Also, a meeting with the new Guatemalan first lady, Wendy Berger, took place to align national social issue priorities with those of the newly formed Diocesan Partnership.
After first visit culminated with the establishment of four priority areas for the partnership:
- Education – with a focus to encourage young girls to attend school.
- Healthcare – with a focus on HIV/AIDS testing, treatment, education & training, and prevention.
- Agriculture – with a focus on food security and expansion of job opportunities in agriculture.
- Family Stabilization – with a focus on creation of jobs, microfinance, reduction in need to migrate to USA.
The initial delegation was a success, the partnership was set, and plans for future delegations were made in order for teams in both Dioceses to work on initiatives to implement the Partnership priorities. Many delegations to Guatemala followed over the decade-long Partnership, as well as several delegations from Guatemala visiting Metuchen. Local parish engagement and fund-raising efforts took place in Metuchen, and several programs and projects were initiated to meet the priorities identified:
Two clean potable water projects were completed, one in a remote mountain community and one on the coastal plain; along with one agricultural irrigation project in that coastal community to result in multiple planting seasons where only one was possible previously. 13 fuel efficient, non-polluting stoves were installed in homes in a remote mountain village. St. Peters University Hospital opened 5 clinics in Santa Rosa and staffed them with local physicians and nurses to improve the public health, a Food for School Scholarship Program, supported by several Metuchen parishes, was initiated in several Santa Rosa communities, as an incentive to keep Guatemalan youth in school, especially young girls. And, Queenship of Mary Parish, Plainsboro NJ initiated a successful micro-lending program in one community in Santa Rosa. The Metuchen Team also contributed to staff salaries to build the infrastructure for social ministry in Santa Rosa, so that programs could eventually become self-sustaining.
The years 2012-14 were marked by discernment, evaluation and adjustment in the relationship, culminating in the decision to end the Global Solidarity Partnership and switch to focus on community-level projects in Santa Rosa.
Over the 10 years of the Partnership’s existence, many successes resulted, and most all of the Santa Rosa priorities have been addressed in some way. Both dioceses benefitted, and the global solidarity goals defined by St. John Paul II have been concretized.
More than 120 volunteers from the Metuchen Diocese participated in delegation trips, and many more offered their time, prayers, expertise and contribution to help meet our goals.
As Santa Rosa Bishop Bernabe de Jesus Sagastume has stated, "We understand that we should not exclusively look for economic solidarity, but rather something more profound and integral: the sharing of faith, charity, cultural values, the struggles and hopes of the poorest. This allows to grow in an authentic brotherhood and solidarity."
2004-13: South Asian Tsunami
Catholic Relief Services selected the Thanjavur Diocese in India as the focus for the Diocese of Metuchen's sustained relief efforts in the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami disaster. Metuchen was the first U.S. diocese to commit to a long-term relationship for recovery and restoration in a selected region. Thanjavur sustained significant losses in the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, including the deaths of approximately 1000 pilgrims who perished near a popular Marian shrine, Our Lady of Good Health.
The Metuchen/Thanjavur effort involved two phases over the 18-24 months following the disaster: 1) an intermediate resettlement phase of the next few months, and 2) a livelihood restoration phase. Metuchen worked with CRS India and Caritas India in a focus on orphan care, housing and restoration of the fishing industry.
In July 2005, a delegation from Metuchen visited Thanjavur to review recovery progress.
Besides managing the Thanjavur project, the task force supported other initiatives relating to the disaster, including legislative advocacy, engaging Metuchen Catholics and organizations, and supporting private projects.
Teams went to India every two years: 2007, 2009 and 2011, to dedicate complicated projects and to begin work on new ones.
2005-2008: Incorporating CCHD, JFI, new identity
In the mid-2000s, the need for action on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform began to increase nationwide with the formation of a campaign of the USSCB called Justice for Immigrants. Over the last several years, as the contours of the struggle for reform took varying shapes, so too did Justice for Immigrants in the Metuchen Diocese. At times, it was an effort of the CRS Metuchen group; at others, an ad hoc gathering of diocesan volunteers.
By 2013, the organizing group PICO was faciliating JFI efforts in the Metuchen Diocese.
An increase in activity in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, especially the emergence of the New Brunswick-based economic development group The Intersect Fund, prompted discernment on whether “CRS Metuchen” was the best name for our unfolding mission.
In 2008 the program changed its name to Catholic Charities Solidarity Team.
2013 -- A need for water prompts a Kenya project; Super Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippines
The devastating November 2013 typhoon Haiyan prompted a new chapter of disaster response and mobilization among CCST members. With a large Filipino community within the diocese, CCST and the Filipino community teamed up to raise more than $600,000 for Catholic Relief Services in the initial emergency phase of the disaster, and then formed a Haiyan Task Force committed to working in the affected region until the year 2020. A first delegation trip to the region took place in Sept. 2014, and a second visit was made in January 2015. Our efforts in the Philippines focus on a parish-based relocation village for families that suffered the loss of their homes during Haiyan.
CCST also has a long-standing desire to support water projects, and a new opportunity presented itself in 2013 with one in the Homa Bay Diocese in Kenya, sponsored by the Passionist Missionaries in that region. Once funds are fully raised, it may be the first in a series of projects in the African country, as the new CRS country representative in Kenya is our old colleague from Guatemala, Lane Bunkers.
2016 -- Toward a four-country program, focus on capacity building
As 2016 ended, the CCST had established project support in four countries. Guatemala continues to generate interest around the Metuchen Diocese, at the parish, individual and institutional levels. The Haiyan Response in the Philippines has prompted talk of a permanent Philippines Response Team effort from CCST. Trips to both Kenya and Lebanon launched project support programs in 2016.
At the same time, through the guidance of Catholic Relief Services, CCST is working hard to generate more interest within the Metuchen Diocese around areas of global solidarity. Our CRS Rice Bowl collection in 2016 set a record for both participants and funds generated.