Carolyn Woo

Carolyn Woo

In mid-January, my husband and I attended the New York Encounter sponsored by the lay Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. The theme was “Reality has never betrayed me,” among the last words of the movement’s founder, Father Luigi Giussani at whose funeral in 2005 then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger delivered the homily.

I am intrigued by this title, which has provoked reading and thinking. Reality, in this postelection period with Mr. Trump as president of the wealthiest and most militarized nation in the world, poses more concerns and fears than assurances.

It is easy to become dispirited by the weight of the policies, appointments, attitudes and behavior. Some may want to withdraw to wait out the next four years. I hope we do the opposite.


Do note that in the midst of humanitarian crises in the world over the past three decades, the global community has logged substantial achievements.

Billions of people have risen from extreme poverty, gained access to lifesaving water, received nutrition, medications and treatments that reduced mortality rates, enrolled their children — including girls — in schools, or grown in their capacities for sustainable livelihoods and participation in local governance.

All these took place within circumstances that were far from ideal: dictatorships, bombings, conflicts, corruption, deadly epidemics, arms escalation, global economic crisis and global warming. But progress was made anyway.

There were enough people and governments who cared: They did not throw up their hands but raised their game, called for rigorous evaluations, challenged the tried and true approaches to achieve greater scale with lasting impact.

Acknowledging the complexities and intransigent nature of the problems, they formed coalitions of multi-sector, multi-tier and multi-faith partnerships from the grass roots.

Clearly progress was made despite the contextual difficulties. I would like to believe that perhaps progress was made because of these difficulties.

I know from having worked in the darkness of cruelty and selfishness that the light of God shines even brighter. It is compelling and beckoning. From its flame, we light our tapers. It is almost like we cannot help but assert our human goodness, our courage to stand up for what is right and decent, and our love for the other.

The reality of the sum of our work does not necessarily manifest itself in screaming headlines of solutions that are complete, perfect and nonreversible.

In this reality, we meet God in our fellow workers, in the people we serve, in our successes and disappointments, in suffering and in rejoicing as we remind ourselves that we are the instruments of God who never abandons the oppressed and who is righting the wrong through a mystery we do not totally comprehend.


Father Giussani was not betrayed by reality because he was deeply aware that God was in that reality. For Martin Luther King Jr., who made famous the quote “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” God abides in that moral universe and participates in our salvation history.

Pope Francis’ recent catechesis on Christian hope reminds us that our hope is in Christ, not in power, position, possessions.

So let us move on with hope, a sense of purpose, our “to-do” list and fairness in our judgments. We can appropriate the example of Pope Francis to not look away; to engage, listen and dialogue; to speak truth to power; to condemn the acts but not demonize the actor.

As a next step, you can sign up for Catholics Confront Global Poverty, which is co-directed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services (, and enter the number 202-224-3121 in your contact list for access to your congressional representatives.


Woo is the former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services and former dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.