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Down to Earth - Interview with Dr. Carolyn Woo

Rodney Leung

Thursday, December 29, 2016

“For God so loved the world, he gave us his only son.” ( John 3:16) The faith is really down to earth. It is not just let us to learn and experience the mercy from Jesus, but also to narrow down the distance between God and us by his dialogue.
On October 28, 2015, Pope Francis was hosting the General Audience on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra Aetate”. He said,  “Dialogue based on confident respect can bring seeds of good that in their turn may bud into friendship and cooperation in many fields……”
It is very true. Dialogue is a basic needed for human. We have dialogue with different area everyday, such as in family, in office, in school, in community, etc. There are two elements to make the dialogue become fruitful, one is the “humble” heart, second is to have patient to listen carefully in the conversation with others. If we can have these two elements in the conversation with people, then I guarantee you can learn from each other and build up a good friendship with this kind of conversation.
In “Down to Earth”, I host a series of in-depth interviews with the clergy, religious, expert in church which brings us closer to Jesus, to learn about the Church, to go out and live out our faith in the society.  I would like to find out the image of God on them with you during each dialogue.  
In the first episode, I am so lucky to have Dr. Carolyn Woo in our studio.
Dr. Carolyn Woo, the President & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.  Carolyn was born and raised in Hong Kong, and immigrated to the United States to attend Purdue University, where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, and joined the faculty. Carolyn was one of five presenters in Rome at the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment in June 2015. Her faith journey and work at CRS are recounted in her book, Working for a Better World, published in 2015 by Our Sunday Visitor. Representing CRS, Carolyn was featured in the May/June 2013 issue of Foreign Policy as one of the 500 Most Powerful people on the planet and one of only 33 in the category of “a force for good.”
Parts of the Interview on Sept 19, 2016:
(R: Rodney Leung   C: Dr.Carolyn Woo   CRS: Catholic Relief Services)
R: Nice to meet you, Dr. Carolyn!
C: Hello, Rodney!
R: When do you immigrate to the United States?
C: In 1972, I have been to the United States for more than 40 years. I went to the United States to study in University after graduated in Hong Kong.
R: You were studied in Maryknoll school in Hong Kong, What is the impact of Catholic education on you?
C: I was there for 12 years, from the grade 1 to grade 12. To getting along with the nuns is a very incredible experience. Their education are very well preparing, they teach us nothing to fear, and we need to have our own ideas, but also to learn how to express ourselves. It is important for them to serve the poor. Although we are students, they have brought us to visit some poor area such as Aberdeen. At that time, there were many refugees in Hong Kong, Mary sisters let us understand the situation of the very poor people and also reflected on what are our responsibilities for the poor? On the other hand, from God's perspective, what kind of responsibility do we have? This is the most important growth and development for us. Most of the classmates were not Catholic, but many of us realized that God is real. God was not just in heaven that you couldn’t see him, but God in real and HE asked us to love while we are on earth.
R: As an immigrant to the United States of Hong Kong people, how this life experience make an impact of your works in CRS?
C: It brings me a great impact. If people have the opportunity to study, to learn how to read and write, those people will have more chances in society. I am glad that I have these opportunities, so I have been able to go into my various appointments, assignments and succeed. Otherwise nobody gave me an opportunity, then I would not be able to do anything. In my work, especially for the refugees, it is not says that they are less smart, or that they less able or they are less willing. They just don’t have a chance. There are many children of refugees do not have opportunity to study, it is the most serious problem. We are talking about over millions of children. Therefore, it is the first thing we have to realize that the education issue is critical, if you have it, then you could move ahead.  Besides, there were many people who were kind to me. As a foreign student, you don’t have family to stay with you. During the holidays, you are staying alone in University. The people who I met in America are very hospitable. They are very kind. They invited me to celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving Day with them. It taught me if you open to people, there are many thing that’s we can do for one another. It is so important for flourishing. These are the two great impacts on me: one is education, as a path of opportunity and everybody need it, second is to be hospitality.  
R: You are an economist, why give up business and become the chief executive of the CRS?
C: I actually believe that business is important. If there is no business in Hong Kong, people will not have a job, and then you cannot make a living and you won’t have enough assets to buy a house. Therefore, I believe in the opportunities that business brings, but business is not always run right. In commerce, there are people with power, and there are people without power. The idea of commerce is that, you have to bring into the right ethical values. If you have a sense of responsibility to others, to love one another, it is actually a solution. My current job is for a lot of poor people, but my idea is not only to serve the very poor, but have to help them come out of poverty. This is my highest priority. If there is no business, then it is no way to help people out of poverty. It is because they need jobs. If they are farmers, they need to be able to sell into the market.
R:Please briefly introduce CRS to us and what is the main differences from other rescue service organizations (eg. Red Cross)?
C: We (CRS) are serving in 107 countries. Those are very poor or under war and conflict. We are serving 100 million people. We do everything from emergency to health, agriculture, education, water. The other rescue services, such as Red Cross, they all do very good work, but the main differences is when we serve we know that the beneficiary, God is with them. There is a sense, when we serve the poor, we are serving God. It is because God told us, he is the poor. Many times when I am out in the field, I ask myself, “God is in there, in this person, what I could do that honours God?” Also, the work that we do is not just because of us, is by the power of God and Holy Spirit to serve, it doesn’t just depends on us.
R: Is there any unforgettable story in your service experiences?
C: There are so many unforgettable stories but I can tell you one of them. When I was in Afghanistan, the people are very poor, so they only can grow poppies, the drug, because there are no other things to grow that can give them an income. Income is very important, if you don’t have it, you can’t feed your children. We have a program to train the women, so that they can become small enterprise. They are a group of twenty and their business is a bakery. They make butter cookies. They were very good. We gave them three months supplies for the cookies, and also the oven, so that they can sell. They are very creative. They sell all the cookies to the local police. People says “Police love donuts”, it seems to be true everywhere. These polices bought up all of the cookies, so in one week, the women sold out all of their produce. I talked to one of them, she was breastfeeding a baby. I asked her how many children you have, and she told me she has two children, however, the older one died two years ago because we could not feed him. She doesn’t has enough milk, and he died. So, here is an example of a woman who lost the son because there has not enough food, and now because of this business, she can have an income. Her income allows her to nurse her second son. This story never left me. It reminds me of the ingenuity of women and of people. If you give them a chance, they could succeed. What they lack is not really diligence, is not about that they're not as smartest as we are, it's just that they never even got to the river to fish, so if you able people, they could make a living, not just dignity, but the ability to nourish a child.
R: You met Pope Francis personally in the past. He loves to serve, especially for the poor. What is his inspiration for your work?
C: I think Pope Francis most important impact on me is “Caring”. To go out and to serve the poor, to not be so comfortable in our own life, that we forget that there are people who suffer and also to not judge because it's easy to say, “they are lazy!” , “Whe they don’t do this and do that…”, “how many resources that we have to use for their living?”, “why they don’t find out the solution by themselves?”, etc. I think Pope Francis is going help, go serve, but also do not judge. It is because until you are in those situations, you don’t know what people have gone through and how they have suffered. Every time I see him, I remind me of love better.
R: In 2015, you wrote a book called “Working for a better world”, what is the definition of "better world"?
C: I think there are three things in term of what is a better world. First is that we need to share. If 1% of population has everything in the world, and 99% does not have enough, that just not tolerable. I think whatever we have, think about how we could share a little bit more.
Second is to protect the world. It is because the way that we are living, the way that we are treating the earth is really number one destroying God’s creation. The second thing is it leaves a lot of people and future generations in great trouble. The third is we've got to work for world peace. We cannot just use war, weapons and bombing as a solution of our conflict.
R: Could you share your motto to us?
C: I think for me just like I said, I really believe God is present. I believe God does not leave us alone. I believe that when we turn our eyes and pretend to not see sufferings that we were pretending not to see God. People always say, “how do you know God is present?”, you know He is always present and suffering. However, we always fall short. You want to do good, you want to share more, but we always hold back and we hold back from God. And now what I've learned is to go back to God and say, “I'm sorry, I'm not doing really well, but please help me, I am not there, this is a journey with you, please take me further along.” This is my most frequent prayer. I'm not there doesn't mean that I don't need to do it, but God is there to take us to the next step. My motto is don't let your own shortcomings change the course, to know your shortcomings and give them to God. God is not looking for a perfect person on earth, he's just looking for a person who continually tries to say acknowledge his love and his presence on this earth.
R: Thanks Dr. Carolyn. We will pray for you and let us pray together for the poor.
C: Thank you!

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