Today started bright and early with a wake up call that roused me from a short but delicious sleep. Our hotel — the Days Inn Baltimore Inner Harbor — is only a few short blocks from the Catholic Relief Services headquarters. You can’t imagine my excitement when we came up to the CRS building. I have been waiting for this opportunity for such a long time, but even more importantly I work online on a regular basis with several contacts from CRS. To visit with them in person was a true treat. These are professionals who work tirelessly to serve our Church and those in need around the world. The opportunity to learn from and with them and to meet so many of them “in real life” is a definite bonus of taking this trip as an Egan Fellow.
Our lineup for the daylong Egan Fellowship orientation was quite comprehensive. At some point in the future I will share follow up blog posts on each of our listening sessions. For today, I simply want to give you a brief overview of each of our speakers and their roles within CRS:
- Kim Pozniak — Communications Officer and our host and organizer for the Egan trip. Kim has been working with us for months to help prepare us for our journey. Along with preparing countless details for our trip to flow smoothly, she is an excellent resource for us as her focus for CRS is on media and Africa.
- Tom Price (Acting Direcotr of Communications) and Jim Stipe (Digital and Visual Media) — Tom and Jim gave us a general welcome to the program, providing an overview of some media related issues (such as our all important #CRSEgan hashtag) and helpful information on effectively communicating our mission as Egan fellows.
- Chris Tucker (Senior Advisor) — Chris provided us with a fascinating overview of the history and evolution of CRS’ strategic mission around the world. What began as a war relief effort in 1943 has grown into a worldwide entity seventy years later, an organization that continues to refine its mission and guiding principals to keep pace with an ever-evolving world and to keep true to its core Catholic identity. Learn more about the history of CRS here.
- Pat Johns (Director of Risk Management and Staff Security) and Michael Hill (Senior Writer) — This particular session of the aftermath of the genocide on the ground was presented by two amazing men who were actually in Rwanda twenty years ago. Both men gave us firsthand accounts of their personal experiences during and immediately following the genocide. For me, this was probably the most memorable session of the day and will definitely merit a journal entry of its own very soon.
- David Leege (Director of Program Impact and Quality Assurance) and Jennifer Nazaire (Program Officer Human Resources) — Both of these two professionals served as Country Directors in Rwanda in the years following the genocide. They gave us fascinating accounts of the lasting impact the tragedy had upon not only the victims, but also upon their CRS staff members as well.
- Mass — A true highlight of the day, the opportunity to receive the Eucharist with members of the CRS staff. The homily by Father Robert Twele (Director of the Office of Legal Services) for today’s feast of St. Luke was (coincidentally, and unbeknownst to Fr. Twele) a compelling “send off” message for our fellowship: a reminder that our Church’s service and grace is for all, including the poorest of the poor, and that prayer needs to be at the heart of our work. Following Mass, we were able to meet and chat with Dr. Carolyn Woo, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. I have such a high level of regard for Dr. Woo. Sharing the Mass and a brief conversation with her was a true gift.
- John Lindner (Web Managing Editor) — Following lunch, John Lindner shared his personal reflections on his recent visit to Rwanda, including some practical pointers on bats! John’s firsthand experiences will definitely prove valuable in the days ahead.
- Joan Rosenhauer (Executive Vice President, US Operations) — Joan’s overview of CRS’ mission statement and guiding principals set an excellent backdrop for the work we will see being done by CRS staff in Rwanda, but also gave us a terrific vantage point to see the organization’s work here in our own country, including in our dioceses and parishes. When I return from my Egan Fellowship, this will likely be the sphere of CRS’ work that I will want to share most directly with our readers. There is so much good being done to serve around the world, but another fantastic aspect of CRS’ work is the effort they give to connecting all Catholics to the core values of our Catholic identity.
- Aaron Chassy (Director of Program Impact and Quality Assurance) — Aaron’s presentation was our last of the day, but dealt with the all-important topic of Peacebuilding. Aaron provided us with a current outlook on CRS’ peacebuilding efforts, including a perspective on how this work permeates other programmatic initiatives in places such as Rwanda.
With this full day of orientation sessions concluded, we four Egan Fellows said our goodbyes to the CRS staff we’d met and made our way to “America’s First Cathedral”, Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This beautiful place of worship was the perfect spot to give thanks for the day’s blessings and to offer a quiet prayer for a safe and fruitful journey.
My bags are now packed, my electronic devices are charging and it’s time to head off for a bit of rest before my 3:45 am wake up call. Our travels tomorrow aboard Ethiopian Airlines will have us en route until Sunday afternoon Kigali time, so check back on Sunday or Monday for my next Rwanda Journal installment. In the mean time, definitely keep an eye on my Facebook and Twitter feeds in case I find wifi along the way! Thank you for all of your prayers and well wishes — they are greatly appreciated!