Bishop Cistone Returns from Pastoral Visit to Ethiopia and Kenya with Hopes of Increasing CRS Awareness within Diocese of Saginaw
SAGINAW — The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, recently returned from an eight-day pastoral visit to Ethiopia and Kenya. As a member of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Board of Directors, he was invited to visit several countries where CRS maintains emergency and long-term relief, food and clothing distribution centers and medical facilities.
“Seeing children malnourished, sick and dying, many of them orphaned or homeless…men, women, children — even babies — suffering from HIV/AIDS and TB, you just know — I knew — we must do something,” Bishop Cistone said. “I hope, in some small way, to increase awareness of the work of CRS within our local Diocese of Saginaw, because our support does make a difference in the lives of our desperately needy brothers and sisters overseas.”
The experience is just one of many recorded by Bishop Cistone as he visited medical facilities where men, women and children who suffer from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malnutrition and other physical and mental illnesses, as well as orphaned children are being cared for around the clock.
“I was deeply impressed by the dedication and love of the religious sisters and lay staff who operate these facilities and who welcome those whom no one else will care for,” Bishop Cistone said. “It is one thing to view these situations in a documentary - from a distance. It is quite different to personally look into the eyes of these people who suffer greatly. I saw a woman standing in line carrying her infant child who was suffering from malnutrition. With one glance, Sister could tell that the child would not survive. I will never forget that child’s face.”
In order to provide emergency and long-term relief, as well as develop infrastructures and systems that allow for an improved quality of life, CRS partners with other Catholic, non-Catholic, and governmental agencies. In doing so, they employ the very people they serve to do much of the work, allowing them an opportunity to develop a productive way of life.
“We inspected a project where a well was drilled at the top of a mountain so that clean, spring water could be carried through a pipe to the village below,” Bishop Cistone said. “The women of the village usually spend eight hours a day just to locate and transport water for food and cleansing. For the first time, the 480 families who live in and around the village now have access to a spigot with clean water. This has dramatically changed their lives.”
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw supports the work of CRS through the Operation Rice Bowl program that takes place each year during Lent and the annual CRS collection. In the last decade, local parishioners have donated more than $2 million. A large portion of the Rice Bowl money, 75 percent, is sent to CRS to feed, clothe and care for the poor in countries overseas. Twenty-five percent stays in the local community to assist the poor with food, shelter and other emergency needs.
CRS was founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States and since that time has expanded to reach more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries on five continents. The mission of CRS is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, working in the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. Although the mission is rooted in the Catholic faith, CRS operations serve people based solely on need, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.
“It was so easy to feel a sense of oneness with the people of Ethiopia and Kenya, and to see Jesus in the men and women that I met there,” Bishop Cistone said. “When I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass, I was deeply touched by the devotion and humility of the people.”
In addition to meeting with the people of the countries he visited and CRS workers, Bishop Cistone had an opportunity to meet with dignitaries, fellow bishops and local leaders of the Catholic Church. He also visited a large CRS food warehouse, a Catholic hospital and university.
“Thank you to all the faithful of the diocese who were united with me in prayer for the people of Ethiopia and Kenya, and who also prayed for my safe journey,” Bishop Cistone said. “I look forward to sharing this experience with you in the days, weeks and months to come.”
See more photos on Bishop Cistone's Facebook page.