Carolyn Woo

On Good Friday, we recall the violation, mutilation and crucifixion inflicted on Christ. Sadly, such acts continue today. This April marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide that resulted in the killing of 800,000 Rwandans.

My work at Catholic Relief Services leads me to focus on zones of conflict. I often receive reports from colleagues about the destruction of homes, livelihoods, families, lives and churches in various parts of the world such as South Sudan and Syria.

I think about these places as Easter proclaims new life and new beginnings, no matter the horror, injustice and depravity.

Upon Jesus’ resurrection, he could no longer be found in the tomb: the depository of death and the past. Jesus made his way among the living where much work awaited him. There would be healing, forgiving, uniting, teaching the way of God versus the way of man. Most important was to reclaim the goodness and courage from those who had failed him.

To them, he entrusted the work of love that would let his divine light overcome the darkness of human hearts and to bring peace where there had been discord and brokenness.

CRS came into a profound recognition of the need for peace building in the 1990s when internal conflicts erupted in Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia and other countries where we served. We could not fulfill our mission to serve the poorest and most vulnerable if we ignored the dynamics and causes of exclusion, division and conflict.

My predecessor, Ken Hackett, led the agency in prayerful and deep reflection that resulted in two defining commitments. First, we would adopt a lens to understand the forces that lock people into unjust structures and impede their flourishing. We would follow the principles of Catholic social teaching and integral human development to attend to the whole person and to every person in need.

Second, we would develop our capacity, in collaboration with local partners, for peace building. That meant getting to know a community’s customs, fostering dialogue among its members, imagining a different future that would bring about a change in heart and a move toward healing and forgiveness.

Peace building is hard work. It does not follow a linear trajectory of progress. Gains achieved are fragile and can be lost to disruptions, such as natural disasters, internal power struggles, corruption or external provocations. Success takes decades and progress is confounded by new challenges.

But we undertake this ministry. It is not just our collective peace that we offer. We are a bearer of Christ’s peace.

When the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda took place, I was preoccupied with work and family. Could I not find a minute to raise my voice to my government? To take greater interest?

Christ promises peace, but he also calls us to do our part, as we’re told in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”


Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.