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Host Rick Howick interviews guests on a variety of topics. This week, Rick welcomes a couple of very special guests to the studio: Tung Truong and Maria Arroyo from Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Tung has come to us by way of his home country of Vietnam, where he serves as a representative for CRS.

Be inspired by the incredible work being done because of our generosity – by this amazing relief organization!







Originally broadcast on 2/22/20


The nearly full moon on Friday evening, Oct. 14, was visible as it ascended high in the sky between Christ Cathedral and the Tower of Hope on the Christ Cathedral campus. Its light reflected on the more than 500 gathered in the Cultural Center to raise funds for earthquake-stricken Amatrice, Italy. It was the same moon that lit the night sky that evening over the village of Amatrice, devastated by the Aug. 24 6.2-magnitude earthquake, and where most of those who survived are living in tents as the cold weather of the looming winter season begins to arrive. The moon, visible that night in both parts of the world was symbolic of the effort at the earthquake relief event, as those gathered lived the Christian philosophy that says if one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. It was in that spirit that so many came together to raise funds to provide support, services and resources to the people of Amatrice as they begin to rebuild their lives.

The relief effort was born from a conversation between Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann and John Allen, president of Crux Catholic Media, Inc.

“I read a great column that he wrote in Crux about life in Italy and Pasta Amatriciana, and everything happening around meals,” said Bishop Kevin Vann. They exchanged emails about what could be done to help those suffering, and the result was a national effort to fundraise on their behalf– a cooperative effort of Crux, Catholic Relief Services and the Diocese of Orange.

John Allen, who served as emcee for the evening, said he spent a large part of his life in Italy. He noted the annual Amatriciana Festival that takes place each August, an event he often attended.

“I got to know the people and the place and was utterly in love with it,” Allen told OC Catholic newspaper. “So when I heard an earthquake had struck Italy, and in particular it had wiped out the town of Amatrice, obviously it touched a special place in my heart.”

The next day he wrote a column that challenged readers: If you’ve ever had a plate of Pasta Amatriciana, he wrote, “…you owe these people.”

Hours later, the email from Bishop Vann arrived in his inbox saying that Allen was right, and that the Diocese of Orange would like to host a dinner to fundraise for the cause.

“This is incredibly important to me,” Allen said. “This cause, these people, this place … and it’s not just the food, of course, it’s the fact that central Italy is such a crossroads of Catholic culture. Those people have given inestimable gifts to the Church, century after century, and this is a moment that they need the rest of the Church to step up for them.”

And that’s exactly what occurred on this Friday evening.

Allen said, “From the beginning, even though this is happening in Orange County, we didn’t want to present this as just an Orange County initiative. We wanted this to be the nerve center of a unified American Catholic response. We wanted this to be the American Catholic community responding together.”

That was evident in the video messages sent from cardinals and bishops from across the country. They included: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archdiocese of New York; Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archdiocese of Boston; Archbishop José Gomez, Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington; and Bishop Joseph Kurtz, the Archdiocese of Louisville.

John Allen served as master of ceremonies for the evening. The program included a blessing by Bishop Vann; a welcome message from Fr. Christopher Smith, rector of Christ Cathedral; a first-hand account of the earthquake and the immediate response, told by Inés San Martin, Crux Vatican correspondent; video messages of support from around the country and, to everyone’s delight, a video message from Pope Francis himself, thanking those that supported the earthquake relief effort.

Diocese of Orange Chancellor Shirl Giacomi reported that 550 registered attendees bought tickets to the dinner event, at which Pasta Amatriciana was served, prepared by Bruno Serato of the Anaheim White House. Special Earthquake Relief-labeled wine was available for purchase, provided by Elysabeth Nguyen of Custom Design Wines, LLC. And during the dinner portion of the evening, singer/actress Maria Elena Infantino provided entertainment.

“We finally had to cut it off because we only had so many tables,” Giacomi said. Donations, however, continued to stream in. Single dinner tickets sold for $50 and tables of 10 for $450. A single corporate donation of $25,000 was received from the Orange County Community Foundation, as well as other large gifts, Giacomi said. “Another one I’m particularly pleased with is that the Mater Dei students raised $7,000. That’s great for them, at that age, to start thinking about other people that they can help.”

A strong contingent of Italians supported the event. “We’re part of the Italian Catholic Federation from St. Norbert in Orange,” said Joe DiGrado president of the chapter and who, with his wife Rose, hosted a table at the event. “We have three branches in the Orange County district and we’re here representing them,” he said “We’re really happy to be here and we’re Italian, so it makes sense.”

The event was live streamed on, Catholic Relief Services’ website and on the Diocese of Orange website ( It will be archived for future viewing in hope that donations will continue.

“The hope is that this is the beginning and not the end,” Allen said.

Editor’s note: To view the video messages from the event and to donate, visit:



On Aug. 24, the earth shook violently in Central Italy. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck, causing buildings to collapse and roofs to fall as people slept. The town of Amatrice was among the cities hardest-hit. Nearly 300 were killed and almost as many were hospitalized with serious injuries. Thousands are now displaced; their homes destroyed. The entire town must be rebuilt and the people of Amatrice must be cared for now, and for the immediate future, until they can rebuild their city and their lives.

To help the town of Amitrace recover, the Diocese of Orange is hosting an Earthquake Relief event on Friday evening, Oct. 14, at the beautiful Christ Cathedral. All proceeds from the fundraiser will go to Catholic Relief Services, the organization that is providing resources and services to the earthquake-stricken region.

Leading the Earthquake Relief event are Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann and L.A. Archbishop Jose Gomez, as well as other prelates, who are calling on the faithful to attend the fundraiser that will ultimately bring relief to those suffering in and around Amatrice. Bishops from several areas across the country are supporting the effort and people from all over are invited to donate to the cause.

“Bishop Vann suggested the fundraising event,” said Diocese of Orange Chancellor Shirl Giacomi. “He was inspired by an article he read by John Allen, editor of Crux. Bishop Vann contacted John and he was eager to be a part of this, along with Ines San Martin, a writer covering Rome for Crux.”

Giacomi described the devastation in Amatrice. “The villages were destroyed and the survivors are living in tents,” she said. “This area gets very cold and winter is fast approaching. Housing has to be found, which is costly and scarce when disaster hits a whole area (rent assistance will be needed), temporary shelters will need to be erected for those that cannot find permanent housing. Everyone in the tightly knit village of Amatrice lost a family member or knows someone that died. Many more children than usual were in the village, because that weekend was a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of their famous sauce, Amatriciana. Parents had brought their children “home” to visit the grandparents. I’ve heard courageous stories of older folks laying their bodies over the younger ones to protect them from the falling debris. One story was of an 11-year-old girl who laid her body over her younger brother, a toddler, to protect him. The little boy lived, but the 11 year old died.”

Acclaimed journalist and author John Allen and Crux Vatican Correspondent Ines San Martin will be featured at the Earthquake Relief event. Allen will serve as emcee for the evening and San Martin will be speaking on “A view of the quake from Rome.”

The evening will include a pasta dinner served with Amatriciana sauce, a sauce that originates from the region of Italy stricken by the quake, and prepared by Anaheim White House Chef and Owner Sir Bruno Serato. When asked to be a part of the event, Giacomi said, “Bruno responded with an enthusiastic, ‘Count me in!'”

Serato is supplying all of the food for the event.  His menu always includes the famous Amatriciana pasta from Amatrice. For this event that dish will be prepared, but just in case someone does not eat red sauce, there will be a white sauce over pasta as well, said Giacomi. Serato’s friend, Maria Elena Infantino, an award-winning international singer, born and raised in Italy, has also volunteered her talent for the event. And Elysabeth Nguyen, of Custom Design Wines, will be supplying all of the wine. Attendees will be able to purchase a bottle of fine wine with a special label designed just for the Earthquake Relief event.

“It seems that everyone that was asked, just stepped up to be a part of this effort,” Giacomi said. She added: “There are so many tragedies in our world and sometimes we just feel like we’re alone; that we can’t do much. St. Teresa of Calcutta said, ‘If you can’t feed hundreds, then just feed one.’ Coming together, we can make a difference. We can demonstrate our solidarity by sharing a meal or making an online donation. All of us together will give hope to a people terribly wounded and broken. And that is no small gift!”

Tickets are available online through Single tickets can be purchased at $50 each and a table of 10 for $450. Donations are also being accepted.


Catholic Relief Services takes college students to Capitol Hill to teach them how to be advocates for those in need and to bring faith into the political and legislative process.



On a recent visit to a Kurdish area of Iraq where many Yazidi people had settled temporarily after having been driven from their homes by ISIS raiders, Carolyn Woo tried in vain to comfort a Yazidi woman who cried almost constantly. ISIS militants had taken her four children in order to sell them. “There’s no way to really absorb that,” says Woo. “Sometimes all you can do is cry with the people.”

Elsewhere, another Yazidi woman displaced by Islamic State gunmen regarded Woo and the other Catholic Relief Services workers with her and exclaimed, “I don’t even know what Catholic is, but it must mean ‘helper.’”

“That’s who we are,” says Woo, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. “We are helpers.”

Helpers certainly, but hardly mere hand-holders. Catholic Relief Services is one of the largest and most wide-ranging international charitable agencies in the world. Founded in 1943, CRS is the official international relief and development agency of the Catholic community in the United States—5,000 people working in 93 countries and helping nearly 100 million of the world’s poorest people every year.

From African regions suffering ebola virus outbreaks to areas torn by insurrection, war and genocide to scenes of typhoons, earthquakes, droughts, famine, official oppression and grinding poverty, CRS is on the ground with aid both physical and spiritual, striving to carry out its three-word mandate: faith, action and results.

Woo, who has traveled to some of the world’s most unstable and desperate locations representing CRS, paid a recent visit to Orange County and the Christ Cathedral campus to talk about the agency’s unique work—a combination of direct aid, diplomacy, advocacy and evangelization by example.

Currently, for example, CRS is active in Liberia, providing personal protective equipment, helping with contact tracing and food security, setting up community health centers and promoting health education in an effort to help stem the spread of the ebola virus. It is one of the latest efforts that Woo says she hopes will end up in CRS’ success column.

Storm relief efforts in the Philippines is one such example. Nearly one year after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the islands and other parts of Southeast Asia, CRS programs have been instrumental in recovery efforts.

“We’ve done relief work to make sure people have transitional shelters and we’re now working on development to make sure they have livelihood options,” says Woo. Coconut groves, for which much of the population riled on for its agricultural livelihood, were decimated by the winds. CNS volunteers are continuing a program to “engage people now to have livelihood options beyond the coconut trees,” says Woo.

In Haiti, five years after a massive earthquake leveled much of the habitable space in the island nation, “CRS will be inaugurating the hospital called St. Francois de Sales, the very first public structure to go up in Port-au-Prince in the last five years,” says Woo. The medical facility, built in collaboration with the Catholic Health Association of the United States, “will be a teaching hospital, and it will also have a wing for rich people so that we can generate the revenue to support the wing for poor people. It changes the model a little bit.

“We have also done system-wide work with the Catholic education system in Haiti, and we’ve dealt with what we call ‘from mountain to market,’ which is changing agricultural practices in Haiti.”

Such direct aid is not the only type of help CRS provides. When necessary, unique diplomatic efforts can smooth an otherwise bumpy road.

“One of the biggest areas is peace, as always,” says Woo. “We do a lot of interfaith work. Sometimes you can point to short-term success. In central Africa, for example, this spring there were the types of conflict that could morph into religious conflict. We made sure we brought together the bishops, the imams and the pastoral leaders to work together so the conflict was not allowed to become a religious conflict.

“We work through people, so we always have to be very sensitive that the way we do our work does not create more conflict and that it allows the local communities to feel that it is their work. After all, we are guests. We’re not there to direct what the future of that country is, but to facilitate the good that can come out of that country.”

Such wide-ranging work requires a healthy budget and the funding to cover it; CRS has both. Woo estimates that the agency’s annual budget ranges from about $650 million to $950 million and that about 60 to 65 percent of it is covered by funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Another 15 to 20 percent comes from funds allocated by the United Nations and sometimes from the European Union or the British government. Another 15 percent comes from donations to appeals such as the annual CRS Rice Bowl collection and from annual givers and large benefactors.

Beyond funding, however, Woo points to the “C” in CRS as a distinct plus.

“Is our Catholic identity an advantage? I would say, absolutely, yes. Do we run into difficulty sometimes? Yes. But overall, that is our identity and that is how people receive us. Some people cannot even pronounce our name, but they will say ‘Those are the Catholics and they’re from the United States.’ The reason we work in some of these countries…is because they trust us. They have done this over the decades, I think, because we have truly demonstrated that we are there to improve the situation for people, that we don’t have another agenda.

“We believe that the way we evangelize—and we are evangelizers—is by our actions. We evangelize by the way we treat other people. Our evangelizing is not necessarily to preach or to convert but to let them know that we are people of God. And to the extent that we are people of God, this is how we try to behave.”

The work can be wrenching. But, says Woo, “we’re never without hope. We may not understand the world and in the end we only encounter a small part of it in time and place. But this is God’s world. And so whatever we do, we have to remember that this is God’s work and we’re just given a piece of it. Mother Teresa said she was not there to get rid of poverty; she was there to give service, to love and to provide dignity to those she met. We use the same model. The other part of it is that suffering absolutely makes no sense. There is nothing good that can come out of that woman losing her four children. But Christ on the cross is in our suffering. And he’s also on the other side of that suffering in the resurrection.”

Meanwhile, CRS’ efforts in the Middle East continue. Winter is on the way, with its freezing temperatures and snow in some regions, says Woo, so CRS is busy building shelters in places such as Iraq and Gaza for displaced people. There is always work that needs doing.

“I would say that the work that we do is a privilege and we are glad to be doing it in the name of Americans with Americans,” says Woo. “Why is it a privilege? Because I think the poor are entrusted to us by God. He sends them to us. And they are our path to salvation.”