By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO, Catholic Relief Services
Mother. It’s such a powerful word, a powerful image, a powerful reality.
As Christians, we know that there is no one or no one thing above the Lord, our God. But we also have special veneration for Mary, the Blessed Mother, because we know that, as the Mother of Jesus, she had such an exceptional role in his life, as she does in all of our lives.
At this time of year, we all think of our own mothers, and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers and all the wonderful women who came before us, who nurtured the generations, who made us quite literally what we are today.
My family originated in China. My grandmother had her feet bound, that cruel practice—now long discontinued—of using tight bandages to restrict growth, because small feet were thought to be attractive. It is unclear where that aesthetic judgment originated, but one of the reasons is certainly that such feet were not that useful. Bound feet meant you were wealthy enough not to have to work in the fields or paddies. That made you a good catch. Eventually, some daughters in poor families had their feet bound in the hope they might attract a rich husband.
My own mother did not have her feet bound. Although she had lost a great deal of wealth when she fled China for Hong Kong, she did still live in a world of servants and household help. That was quite different than what my children experienced with a mother who went off to work every morning and often returned late at night.
At Catholic Relief Services, we know so well that there are many different styles of mothering—we see them in the nearly 100 countries around the world where we work. But we also see something that is so clear and evident: that all mothers want the same things for their children.
We want them to be healthy. We want them to be safe. We want them to be educated. We want them to have the freedom and ability to live full and meaningful lives. That’s what my grandmother wanted for my mother, what my mother wanted for me and what I have always wanted for my children.
Because of your generosity, CRS is able to help mothers realize their dreams in many ways. Working through local partners, often through the local Church, you bring health services to remote villages and poor urban neighborhoods. You bring women prenatal care and better childbirth facilities. You help emphasize nutrition in the critical first 2 years of life. You pay school fees. You allow women to pool their resources in savings communities that they then use to start businesses so they can support their families. You bring clean, fresh water, saving mothers from backbreaking labor and their children from dread intestinal diseases. The list goes on.
There’s something else you realize when you do this kind of work: It does take a village to raise a child. Think of all the women who were important in your life. I had a wonderful aunt, a caregiver who helped my mom and those wonderful Maryknoll Sisters who showed so much courage because they were led by love.
It takes the community to support a school, to follow up on the work of health clinics, to spread the word about proper nutrition. And sometimes a village must band together to look after orphans and other vulnerable children. Many of the programs you support help these kids, whose live have been disrupted by disease and death. You help give them a future, give them hope, give them what their mothers wanted for them.
We do this work for one simple reason: a variation on the Golden Rule. All of these mothers want for their children what we all want for ours. We do it in the name of the Blessed Mother and her son, because it is from them we learned true compassion. We learned that we all make up the village that helps to raise the world’s children.