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January 28, 2011

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Celebrating 50 Years in Rwanda

A letter from CRS President Ken Hackett, read by CRS Executive Vice President Dave Piraino during a ceremony commemorating CRS' 50th anniversary in Rwanda.

Dear Friends,

It is my profound privilege to offer greetings and best wishes as we celebrate 50th years of partnership with the people of Rwanda. I write to you on behalf of millions of Americans who, from the other side of the world, have long shared solidarity and support with the people of Rwanda. Working hand-in-hand with the Catholic Church in Rwanda, it has been our privilege to accompany you over these years through some times that have been very difficult, as well as the present that offers hope for a better future.

This celebration is not just about the number of years we have been in Rwanda, but about the rich friendship and collaboration that has grown over generations. During these many years, we have strived to be a faithful friend and a fruitful partner, accompanying the people of Rwanda through your trials and triumphs.

As you began your journey as an independent nation some five decades ago, CRS was there to walk beside you.

During the tragedy and turmoil of genocide of 1994, we were with you. Many of our staff lost family and friends. The experience deeply affected us, not just our program here in Rwanda, but our entire agency. It shook us to the core. It was a time of distress for CRS, and a time of a lot of prayer. It led us to question whether we did all we could to prevent the violence, whether we could have done more.

As a result, the people of CRS resolved that in addition to traditional humanitarian efforts, we would carry out programs that promote peace, justice and reconciliation. These are the basic principles of Catholic social teaching. So in a sense, we went back to our roots as a Catholic agency. We would work to build peace among various groups. We would help to prevent conflicts—not just deal with their consequences. And where conflict did break out, we would work to bring reconciliation and forgiveness between adversaries. This experience transformed CRS and how we work, not just in Rwanda, but around the world.

We have engaged in this work in Rwanda for some time. And over the years, we have all made much progress. Still, we have a long way to go.

And so, as we look to the future, we will continue to walk with you on your journey as a nation and as a people who are seeking to live peacefully. In your work to bring reconciliation among former adversaries, you have shown us that peace is possible.

The world is changing. Rwanda is changing. And we will adapt to this changing environment and its needs. But our commitment to working with the poorest of the poor - to partnership and solidarity, to self-help and empowerment, to promoting peace and reducing conflicts - is unwavering.

Together, for 50 years, we have made a world of difference in Rwanda. How many lives will we touch tomorrow?"

May God bless the people of Rwanda.