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US-based relief group supports pope's efforts in Gaza, Ukraine

Cross Catholic Outreach has also been providing direct financing for the Vatican's most pressing charitable activities
Clergy and children from the Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, US, are seen participating in the 2023 Box of Joy season organized by Cross Catholic Outreach

Clergy and children from the Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, US, are seen participating in the 2023 Box of Joy season organized by Cross Catholic Outreach. (Photo: Cross Catholic Outreach)

Published: May 15, 2024 05:29 AM GMT
Updated: May 15, 2024 05:31 AM GMT

True change comes to people's lives and communities when both spiritual and material needs receive care, said the president of a Catholic relief and development organization based in Boca Raton, Florida.

"When you see communities that integrate holistically, integral human development, the spiritual, the social and the material, you see people that care for one another," Michele Sagarino, president of Cross Catholic Outreach, told Catholic News Service in Rome on May 9.

"It's no longer dog eat dog" after people experience and learn "that true love" of Christ and the charity of his disciples, she said. "The community can grow together. They can support one another. I have been all around the world and without a doubt, it's a fact."

Founded in 2001, the Catholic ministry partners with bishops, priests, religious and laypeople to provide food, water, housing, education, medical care, orphan support, microfinancing, disaster relief and God's love "to the poorest of the poor" in more than 30 countries around the world.

Cross Catholic Outreach has also been partnering with the Vatican for years, providing direct financing for the pope's most pressing charitable activities.

Most recently, they have been supporting refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians through the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, Sagarino said.

Each year a delegation from the organization comes to Rome to dialogue directly with Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, and other Vatican officials.

"We really wanted to hear what is the need now and what are other needs" on the horizon, she said. "It's a long-term relief effort, rebuild effort, and that's what Cross Catholic Outreach is about. We don't just come in and help once, and we really want to continue to support the Holy Father and whatever the urgent needs are."

Working with Cardinal Krajewski, the organization provided ambulances to Ukraine and now they are looking at financing a CT scan machine for a hospital there that had been bombed and was partially rebuilt, she said.

Cardinal Krajewski also has asked the Catholic ministry to help support his efforts in getting desperately needed food and medicine into Gaza, Sagarino said.

The cardinal had spent two weeks in the area late last year trying to deliver aid, but he couldn't get into Gaza, she said. He "worked with the Holy Father to make some calls and to be able to ultimately airdrop some food into areas. While he was there, he shared that 15 children died of starvation, which was so unnecessary with the aid that he could provide."

The air drops have been effective, she said, so their organization will help finance that initiative.

Cross Catholic Outreach always works as a network, listening to the local bishops and seeing what the local Caritas is already doing, she said.

The aid provided, she said, complements the spiritual outreach priests, religious and catechists are already providing on the ground.

"To me, that spiritual base is what transforms people," Sagarino said. "The 'now' is important. We need to eat. We need to have water, but we have to look at the eternal and really come alongside the church and support that. It's not forced …. You don't have to be Catholic to receive the aid. But when you feel that love that only God can provide, that's what transforms," she said.

"You cannot have true change without the spiritual and the material together," she said.

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