Media CenterCarolyn Woo's CNS Column - Companions for the Journey

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All of us learn from our friends and family. We get tips on restaurants, doctors, service providers or best places to get this and that. I just sent a request to a friend for her pickled cucumbers recipe, and I am looking at colorful origami cranes a CRS colleague taught me to make. Beyond gaining knowledge and skills, I am struck also by how people can touch our lives with profound impact, at times helping us grow as a human being or as a person of faith.

At a dinner with a classmate I had not seen for over forty years, I told her that I would like to pick up Spanish in my retirement, not so much to be fluent but to be able to sing along at bilingual Masses. She shared that she has been teaching herself Spanish in the last few years since her son married a Panamanian girl whose first language is Spanish even though she operates perfectly in English. My classmate wants to be able to relate to her daughter-in-law's mother, who knows only Spanish, and to her grandson to encourage his dual heritage. Moreover, she told me that she is not self-conscious and will venture forth despite rudimentary vocabulary, sentence construction and pronunciation. I was totally inspired by her commitment to know and engage her in-laws, her appreciation for the diverse ethnicity of her grandson, discipline in learning a new language and a desire so strong that overcomes our usual self-centered unease. She taught me what it means to welcome a new member into the family and showed that yes, even at our age, we could pick up a new language.

Days later, I was told that a former colleague donated her kidney to someone she did not know. A friend of mine participated in a donation program for his nephew, and my brother underwent a kidney transplant. But I did not know any person who made it a priority to give a kidney to a stranger. In fact, I was told it was on her bucket list. Then I wondered why more people don't think about this, as organ donation is the ultimate statement of human bondedness. At a reception soon after, I greeted an acquaintance who had cheered me on when I served as dean at the University of Notre Dame. Responding to the usual "How are you?", he spoke plainly and urgently of his current challenge. Recent cancer treatments had damaged his only kidney (the other one being lost over thirty years ago), and his wife and children did not match his blood type of "O." I noted that mine is also "O."

About two years ago when visiting with a CRS donor, I asked her what she plans to do when she retires from a very distinguished career. With seriousness and a twinkle in her eyes, she stated, "I want to do what will get me to heaven."  We become good friends in the years hence. A few days ago at her kitchen while chopping vegetables, she declared, "Carolyn, I have figured something out: it is not enough to work on me getting to heaven, we have to work on everyone getting to heaven."  Boy, I have been haunted by her first statement, and now she has again raised the bar.

For the celebration of All Saints, let us remember how every one of us, by the way we live, is the mirror of the goodness in which God created us. We can make this goodness real and accessible, and inspire each other to live this out. Let us be companions on our journey to heaven. 

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Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service. You can follow Dr. Woo on Twitter at @WooCRS.

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