One of the many hats Bishop Richard J. Malone wears is that of being a board member for Catholic Relief Services. While serving on the board, he has traveled twice to be on the front line and examine the work of CRS. Ken Hackett, former president of CRS, went with Bishop Malone to Haiti in 2011 and Central Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi) in 2010. Both times, he said, served as an invaluable experience for Bishop Malone.
“We saw many of the operations themselves,” Hackett said of their trip to Haiti. “The housing program is a program to take the concrete rubble and grind it up so that it can be reused as a kind of ingredient in concrete. We saw programs for starting small businesses for women using cell phone technology, the small banking programs, and then we had a chance to visit the site of St. Francis de Sales Hospital. It was destroyed during the earthquake and all the rubble has been removed and we are hoping to construct a new hospital there.”
But one of the most meaningful moments in Haiti occurred when Bishop Malone and Hackett traveled to a Delmas where CRS was assisting with building homes.
“To get there, it’s kind of a ravine,” Hackett said. “Think of water in the bottom and hills on both sides. We went to one side of the ravine and then walked down about a half a mile through these narrow passes around peoples’ houses, some of which had collapsed. Others had been partially rebuilt, and this was tough walking. This was downhill, slippery walk ways. These aren’t steps or anything, this is just a path. We reached the bottom, which is a filthy little river where people throw their garbage, and then we walked up another side to meet and visit peoples’ houses that had been reconstructed.”
It was there that Bishop Malone had the opportunity to meet two sisters who had called upon CRS to help them rebuild what the earthquake had destroyed.
“They told him the story about how they got Catholic Relief Services to come and help them rebuild, and it was a very moving thing,” Hackett said. “They were just very, very persistent, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and they got Catholic Relief Services to go in to that neighborhood and now there are probably about 110, 120 homes rebuilt in that neighborhood.”
Catholic Relief Services, Hackett said, assisted the community by providing machines to grind rubble for floor substance, roofing sheet, wood materials and advice from carpenters and contractors. With the knowledge and means, the people began to rebuild.
“I think he was very impressed with how it was done, not just what was done,” Hackett said of Bishop Malone. “It was a process that engages people in the reconstruction of their own lives. It helps them feel that they have control over their situation.”
Bishop Malone’s visit to Central Africa a year earlier also provided profound insight into problems not readily known or discussed, Hackett said.
“He had the chance to witness some of the wonderful work of the Church and really (engage) with people who are marginalized and beaten and raped and brutalized. I think it was an eye-opening experience for him,” Hackett said. “I asked him a month after we came back what he thought and he said, ‘I’m still processing.’ It’s an experience that is not duplicated in anything else, anywhere else.”
The Central Africa trip also gave the opportunity to put things into perspective. While visiting the archbishop of Bukavu, Bishop Malone got a chance to witness how turbulent life was for a Catholic in Bukavu.
“We were going to meet him for Mass the next day at his cathedral in Bukavu, and Bishop Malone said Mass with him. It was Sunday and after Mass he took us outside and he said, ‘Come out. I want to show you something,’ and he said, ‘I’m erecting a little monument to my predecessors.’ And you could see that there were three graves in front of the church,” Hackett said. The first grave belonged to the archbishop of Bukavu in the early ’90s who had died by assassination. The second grave was that of his replacement, and he, too, died quickly in the position. The third grave belonged to the following bishop who had also been assassinated.
“The archbishop looked at his watch and said, ‘It’s October 28. I only got a few more days.’ All three of his predecessors died in October and two of them were assassinated,” Hackett said. “Those are the kind of experiences that are transformative.”
Hackett believes the experiences Bishop Malone had in Haiti and Central Africa are being used to their greatest potential.
“I think he has a deep commitment to social justice issues, as well as many other aspects of Church life,” Hackett said. “But joining the board of Catholic Relief Services gives you perspective on the Church universal that you wouldn’t necessarily have just being the ordinary of a diocese,” Hackett said. “He’s already been so deeply engaged in programs. He’s heading one of the committees of Catholic Relief Services that guide the outreach to all of the dioceses in the United States, and he’s bringing his perspective and his wisdom to staff and it’s making a big difference, I would say.”
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