Parishes help pace donations for tsunami victims

February 15, 2005|By Janice D'Arcy | Janice D'Arcy,SUN STAFF

From classrooms to collection baskets, Baltimore parishes have raised $2.5 million for Catholic Relief Services' tsunami effort, more than any other diocese in the country has reported, officials announced yesterday.

"They've outdone themselves," said Bishop Robert N. Lynch, chairman of the agency's board of directors.

Cardinal William H. Keeler delivered two of the latest checks to relief service staff members at their West Fayette Street headquarters yesterday, and thanked them "for what you do for all of us across the country and around the world."

The archdiocesan checks are part of what has become a waterfall of donations for the relief agency. Immediately after the Dec. 26 tsunami in South Asia, the group assessed the initial damage and set a fund-raising goal of $25 million. It was the first of many goals that it quickly met and exceeded.

As of yesterday, relief service officials said they have raised more than $80 million for tsunami relief, by far the biggest disaster collection in the agency's history. "Every goal we set is just toppled right over," said communications associate Jeffrey Griffith.

Locally, officials say the $2.5 million is likely the most ever raised in Baltimore parishes for a single disaster. It came from all corners of the archdiocese over the last seven weeks, with sources that included second collections during Sunday Masses, outdoor appeals after Mass, monthlong dedications of poor-box contributions and bake sales.

Keeler said much of the generosity was a result of a steady focus on the cause. "A lot of credit goes also to our priests, who, through bulletin and pulpit announcements, promoted the collections for the tsunami, and also to those principals and other leaders in our schools, because there's been a real wonderful outpouring in the schools as well," he said.

At the same time, the cardinal noted that local pride might have played a role in contributions. The 61-year-old international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community moved to Baltimore 15 years ago and has a high profile locally.

Though the scale of tsunami wreckage was extensive and the disaster generated large worldwide contributions, the response has still surprised officials at the Catholic agency. Only 88 of the country's 175 dioceses have reported their collections, and even in Baltimore, parishes are still planning future drives.

CRS also collects private donations from other sources beyond Catholic parishes, including gifts in recent days from a Jewish organization and from a group of state employees. Their relief efforts, too, are nondenominational, with crisis relief directed at need, not religious affiliation.

In 2003, the most recent year for financial figures available, CRS collected about $100 million in private donations in total.

Agency officials plan to gather again later this month to set a new goal for their tsunami effort. CRS President Kenneth Hackett said this time, officials will focus on the cost of long-term efforts, such as re-establishing livelihoods, rebuilding infrastructure and homes, and helping villages become self-sufficient.

Lynch said the relief agency is committed to remaining in South Asia for "the long haul." He said that because of the checks that continue to arrive, CRS officials and staff are able to pledge, "We won't abandon these people."

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