By Lauren Dugan
This semester, the freshmen were not the only newcomers to campus: Mark Schnellbaecher, Catholic Relief Services regional director for Europe and the Middle East, is spending his sabbatical at the University. Jack Byrne, Pakistan’s representative for CRS, will join him and the rest of the University’s CRS team on Oct. 9.
CRS is a humanitarian agency, that assists poor and vulnerable in the U.S. and overseas. The agency started in 1943, aimed to assist World War II refugees in Europe, but today aids over 100 countries including all of Africa, most of Asia, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Bosnia and Herzegovina and more. Although CRS is based on Catholic teachings, the agency helps people of all religions.
“It is a basis of need, not creed,” Schnellbaecher said.
Headquartered in Baltimore, Md., the agency has about 5,000 employees worldwide. Other offices in the U.S., located in Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Antonio, Chicago and Indiana, aim to raise awareness for the agency and its services.
Schnellbaecher, and later Byrne, have come to the University on sabbaticals as a rest from their work in the field, an opportunity to reflect and rejuvenate. Schnellbaecher has spent the last 10 years doing work in Beiret, Lebanon.
CRS has a partnership with a number of Catholic universities in the U.S. designed to support each other’s work. Schnellbaecher is appreciative that the University has provided “generous opportunities” for two CRS employees on sabbatical.
He is taking two graduate classes, strategic planning for non-profit organizations and Christian ethics and the common good. Additionally, Schnellbaecher will be attending lectures, participating in the “Understanding Syria: The Greatest Proxy War Since Vietnam” symposium on Monday and speaking at a workshop on Oct. 26.
Schnellbaecher got involved with CRS as an intern during his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in 1982. The program at Georgetown specifically worked with refugees in southeast Asia.
Schnellbaecher joined the agency because of his love of traveling. Since his internship, he has traveled to about 30 or 40 countries.
Wanting to continue his work with CRS, Schnellbaecher made it a career because it combined his professional interests with the sense of fulfillment he sought.
“Americans that live in prosperity and are blessed with good fortune have an obligation to share their good fortune with the people that don’t have it,” Schnellbaecher said, commenting on the personal fulfillment the service provides employees. “CRS is a good way to live out [your]responsibility.”
In a positive sense, Schnellbaecher’s most memorable experience took place in 1999 with the conclusion of the war in Kosovo. After working in the refugee camps for four to five months in unpleasant living situations, Schnellbaecher and other CRS members got to take 50,000 refugees back home. Although most returned to complete destruction, CRS helped them rebuild their lives.
The University’s CRS office is located in Corr Hall. Last year, students involved in CRS sponsored “Play for Peace”—a basketball game fundraiser for Sudan. This year, it will again take place in February, and aim to assist Syria. The event not only raises funds, but also spreads awareness, hoping to gain more student involvement.
Students do not have to be Catholic to get involved in CRS. The majority of CRS employees are not Catholic but have adopted an agreement and understanding of social Catholic teachings. “Giving hope to a world in need” is the slogan of CRS.
“Hope is a good start, but the world needs more,” Schnellbaecher said. “CRS is more than a Band-Aid to the world, but examines the cause of the problem. Natural disasters are an act of God, but because of how some societies operate, it is difficult for people to do well. CRS asks, ‘What are the issues that undermine justice in society and keep people poor and disposed?’ We try to navigate the tension of offering assistance and solving the underlying issue.”
When pondering how to make the world a better place, junior Matt Kaehler feels it starts with a good mindset.
“It comes down to people caring about people and understanding a little difference goes a long way,” he said. “It frustrates me how complacent people are. Their selfish interests take away from the good of humanity as a whole.”
Schnellbaecher will speak at the workshop “After the Disaster: the Role of Governments, NGOs, the Media and Universities” on Oct. 26. The workshop will examine the aftermath of a disaster, and how CRS participates in the immediate and long-term recovery, such as supplying water and building refugee camps.
Kaehler notes the workshop is definitely something he would be interested in attending.
“It will be such a diverse, educational experience,” he said.
“Hopefully there will be a little more awareness about CRS and the issues we aim to solve,” Schnellbaecher said. “We would love to see desire from students to get involved, whether that be in a written letter to Congress, or talking about the issues with friends.” After this first semester, he hopes students will continue his efforts.