When and why did you join St. Mathew Parish?
||Our family moved from a suburb of Omaha, where we attended St. Columbkille Parish, back to Connecticut in 2008, and we joined St. Matthew Parish (now the Catholic Community of St. Matthew and St. Bernard.) We wanted a place for our children to go where they could join in worship with classmates from their new schools. I loved the grace our pastor, Father Jim Carini, always conveyed in his leadership, preaching, teaching and personal witness (he’s now Monsignor Carini). Since he retired, we’ve been extremely fortunate to have the wisdom and pastoral leadership of Father Rick Ricard who connects so well with all generations and is very encouraging. Plus we are blessed to receive such insightful and inspiring homilies from Father Bill Olesik and Father Jeffrey Ellis. But in Connecticut, we’re facing the consolidation of Churches for many reasons, which really encourages me to consider ways to build up the Church body and fervently re-present Christ to our community and to the world far and near. We have so many reasons to celebrate our God, our awesome Creator, Provider, Savior and Counselor, and to Celebrate our faith – and we need to share that joy and our faith in our God from which it flows. The statistics show many people in many parts of the country have turned away from Church and even God – and we cannot just go on living as if that’s okay! We all need to support our Parishes and to collaborate with and gather support from our Parish communities|
|Gordon:||Which of St. Mathew Parish’s many ministries are. in your opinion, the most ambitious and why?|
I think it’s a choice between of the youth ministry and the Outreach to Haiti ministry. It’s very difficult but so necessary to counter the societal pressures confronting teens and to develop experiences that effectively transfer the faith in a manner that will live on after Confirmation. Our combined Parish community of St. Bernard and St. Matthew has offered many youth initiatives, including living stations of the cross. That’s ambitious but necessary and wonderful work.
Our Outreach To Haiti ministry is effective in raising awareness of the struggles our brothers and sisters have faced in Haiti in order to generate support, and the Parish community has been extremely supportive – but the needs in Haiti are so severe and never ending. Our Global Institute For Transformation (GIFT) ministry has teamed with the Outreach To Haiti ministry at the Parish level and is working with the Diocese, too, to bring solidarity and efficacious solutions to Haiti. We’ve introduced parish twinning to enhance sweet potato production, and we’ve been able to build upon the wonderful network and resources the Parish and Diocese have already established in Haiti for impacting the lives there. This a very important consideration in tackling ambitious goals: parishioners can contribute a little and make a huge impact by collaborating with ministries such as Outreach to Haiti and building upon their established infrastructure, network, knowledge and resources. And these parish ministries can use the help. Together, the sum is far greater than the parts. They body of Christ using everyone’s talents, treasures and time in the most efficacious manner can achieve ambitious goals – and we really need to do, so given the condition of our world today. And the results are so incredibly heart-warming.
||Before you founded Global Institute For Transformation (GIFT) in 2006, you were a recognized leader in energy and nutrition. What inspired you to organize GIFT and how did this inspiration motivate you to change careers?|
Not long after I had guided a regulated utility through deregulation to compete successfully in the first open market in the US, I reflected on the fact that while this was a worthwhile corporate endeavor, there were unmet humanitarian needs that could benefit from a similar investment of resources and innovation.
So, I left the utility to run a refugee resettlement ministry in Chicago for a while. Refugees from the war-torn countries of Bosnian and Kosovo were arriving, and I wanted to bring comfort and spiritual support those who had experienced the worst of humanity. I was appreciative of the fact that Jesus and the Holy Family were refugees – and that our Lord himself would have experienced the worst of humanity. As it turned out, the utility ended up funding my existence by contracting me to continue on as a part-time consultant. But my managing the two endeavors simultaneously didn’t sit so well with the refugee ministry, so I ultimately had to reenter the workforce. Fortunately, I was invited to join the board of the World Relief Chicago organization and enjoyed bringing refugees love and support through this wonderful group.
During my involvement with refugees, I saw God answer prayer so mightily. In one example, he provided bikes in direct answer to a refugee mom’s prayers while in Bosnia, as soon as she and her kids arrived in Chicago O’Hare and walked to the airport garage. In another example, he guided a money transfer to enable the purchase of a Sudanese refugee orphanage in Zimbabwe, while the currency exchange rate was at its high of $300 to one; then immediately following the money transfer, the currency exchange was shut down, and when it resumed, the transfer rate had gone back to just $55 to one.
Perhaps what was driving all my ministry zeal and my extension outside the business world was that I’ve had a deep desire to bring others to a closer relationship with God, because I believe that pursuing and living in a right relationship with God is the most important thing we can do in life. And I’ve understood that we who are blessed with the love and presence of Christ – and have been given all the gifts we’re blessed with - we need to provide support to those in need.
You see, I was at my identical twin's bedside, in 1980, when he succumbed to heat stroke at age 22, while serving as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army. I watched as he drew near to God in his final moments. While I felt the incredible loss and missed him so severely, I knew he would ultimately be with God. I didn't want to deny him that joy – being in God’s presence. I also realized then that I had been given an incredible gift in having him as my twin, and I understood that the reason my pain was so severe was that the gift was so very great.
So, I felt I should honor God and share His love with others, and to bring them to a closer relationship with God, such that when they faced death, they would ultimately be united with God, too.
I’ve since tried to learn what pleases God and to seek to do His will – and that involves caring for the corporal and spiritual needs of everyone I can possibly care about.
GIFT was an idea God presented to me while driving. I had actually begun preparations for a ministry -- "Share the Gift of God Ministries" -- based on the Women at the Well, whom Jesus challenged with the notion, "If you knew the GIFT of God, and who it is that asks you for a drink, he would have given you living water, welling up to eternal life." Jesus knew everything about her and shared His presence with her fully. She, in turn, evangelized her whole community. But while driving and reflecting on this, I had this profound thought: "Gift? What is the Church but a Global Institute For Transformation (G. I. F. T.). Everything's a GIFT. And we need to give back to God for all his incredible gifts, and we need to share our gifts with others" And that's how GIFT began. It was a gift from God.
Not long after, the plan was encouraged in a sermon, with the statement, "Someone here may have a plan for God." It was encouraged by Father Jim Keiter, in Omaha and endorsed by Archbishop Elden Curtiss as “sorely needed” given our Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. And it has continued to blossom.
I only hope -- and I pray -- that I can be faithful in fulfilling all its potential and purpose.
But it’s the resonance of GIFT and Transformation with Church teaching that truly affirms the need for GIFT and encourages me to persevere in serving God and His family here on earth.
Little did I realize then the extent to which both the concepts -- GIFT and Transformation – are key to our faith, and that Catholic teaching is replete with these concepts.
Indeed, the brand proposition of GIFT and our focus on helping affect Christ-centered, Spirit-led transformations, align with recurring admonitions in Church teaching to: 1) fully appreciate that everything is a gift from God; and 2), to let our faith radically transform our lives and to work toward the transformation of the world. These recurring encouragements and admonitions include:
Importantly, we once conducted a small qualitative research
study using aided surveys, and we found that few
Catholics were aware of our call to transform lives and the
world at large. And given how much the world seems to
live as if God doesn’t exist, it’s safe to assume that our
collective psyche, motivation and lifestyles are
not redolent of the spirit of gift… of our need to
reciprocate to God for his selfless, love to the end… or of
our need to share our gifts with our brothers and sisters in
Christ here and around the world.
|Gordon:||Why is interfaith communications so important?|
We need to foster unity in the Christian community to help all our brothers and sisters in Christ to come to a full understanding of God’s saving plan for His children, and to encourage people to live a life that pleases God. We Catholics have such incredible gifts to share – among them, the understanding and experience of encountering Christ’s real presence in our lives; the model of Mary who was a vessel of Holiness, Humility and Obedience (H2O) that the Lord used to bring His living water welling up to eternal life to a thirsty and dying generation; the teachings of the early Church fathers (St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Justin the Martyr and others); the gift of creation, including life itself, all we need to live for today, God’s saving grace and eternal life with our loving God.
I am hopeful that through encounters and dialogues with those of other faiths, with our fellow Catholics, with non-practicing Catholics, and with those who lack faith, we can in some way encourage one another to commit to living ever transforming lives. Lives truly appreciative of the fact that everything we have is a gift from God, such that we should reciprocate to God with the selfless gift of our lives. So we can live and love more like Jesus. So we can re-present Christ and witness to His incredible love, joy, holiness and mercy. So we can bring more people to the fullness of faith in Christ, ultimately experiencing His real presence. So we can help restore appreciation for Christ's Church amid a growing secular society. And so we can all, in our own way, help transform the world near and far through the love of Christ.
|Gordon:||Could you share with our readers your experience as an advisor to the White House?|
I had developed a program with the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to help businesses succeed despite the recession with proven strategies for growth, such that when the Chamber was asked by the White House who they thought could provide growth strategies, the Chamber recommended me. I focused my advice on the importance of R&D and innovation, collaborations, key performance indicators, IT utilization and other solutions. I was also trying to affect an appreciation for the value of diversity and to help minority communities -- where so many people were, and still are, struggling -- through advancing Women and Minority Business development
|Gordon:||Please comment on the UN’s mission to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.|
The UN has established the UN Sustainable Development Goals,
"17 Goals To
Transform Our World" that the Vatican signed
off on, along with all 193 UN member nations, back in
September, 2015. These include eradicating all poverty and
hunger and enabling universal wellbeing (which should
include spiritual wellbeing, as we are spiritual beings) by
2030. We don't hear much of this, but based on commands in
Holy Scripture such as in Matthew 25, we Catholics should be
leading this effort. Through GIFT we want to help the
body of Christ learn about and fulfill these transformative
goals. Our smart, smallholder farming of sweet
potatoes as a solidarity measure in Haiti and Malawi -- and
ideally as a broad parish twinning effort -- could help make
a dent in this.
addressed the issue of global hunger
had some comments on his presentation. Could you share them
with our readers?
Importantly, Pope Francis just addressed the issue of global hunger and poverty at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Conference July 3.. He specifically encouraged embrace of the UN SDG of zero hunger by 2030.
Sadly, his remarks were in the context of the number of hungry people in the world having increased since 2015, reversing years of progress. As the article noted, The Holy Father stressed that the international community should acknowledge hunger and malnutrition are not “natural or structural phenomena,” but “caused by the indifference of many...," and that it is the "duty of the entire human family to provide practical assistance to those in need.” The pontiff said the reason hunger and malnutrition still exist is because of a “lack of a culture of solidarity..." He called on everyone not to be resigned but to engage in advancing agricultural and other solutions.
I agree wholeheartedly that this overall resignation to world poverty and hunger must stop. When I’ve spoken about the UN SDGs calling for eradicating hunger and ending poverty by 2030, I’ve heard several fervent Catholics ask, “But didn’t the Lord himself say ‘the poor you will always have with you.’” And several have said these goals are unattainable and will only discourage people into doing nothing.
However, there’s much we can do today to address poverty and hunger --- much more so than ever before. There are many more ways we can leverage our current time, talents and treasures. We are richer than ever and have much more to offer than ever. We have cell phone computers; we have Skype and FaceTime; we have facilitated networks in Linked, Facebook and other apps; we have internet enabled cameras and sensors; and we have innovations in farm irrigation.
Interestingly, it was during that stint I had at the utility in 1997, when I helped lead the pursuit and utilization of what has become the smart grid and Internet of Things, that I learned about connected devices, and I’ve kept working on that technology. Recently, I’ve been able to transfer my smart grid and Internet of Things understanding into smart farming.
Now through GIFT, I’m working with the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center, Poland, to bring smart, technology connected and informed farming to Haiti, Malawi and beyond, and to support parish twinning and solidarity. And this is what is possible when we consider ways we can use our talents, networks and resources for God’s purposes and for our brothers and sisters in need.
You know, the encyclical Caritas In Veritate called for us to pursue advanced farming strategies and renewed solidarity to support the poor.
The problem of food insecurity needs to be addressed… promoting the agricultural development of poorer countries… It could be useful to consider the new possibilities that are opening up through proper use of traditional as well as innovative farming techniques... The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand novel solutions.” Caritas In Veritate
Catholic Relief Services, Maryknoll, Skoll, Bill & Melinda Gates and USAID have all called for a focus on smallholder farming. Through GIFT, we’re advancing these strategies.
Based on extensive internet research, we’ve identified that the sweet potato isperhaps the most efficacious crop people can harvest. It’s actually two crops: the orange flesh potato; and the leaves that are just like spinach. Sweet potatoes are called “The Mother Teresa of Foods,” for their unsurpassed value. We’re now exploring with experts how to affect propagation and multiplication strategies to ideally convert just a few hundred sweet potato slips (plantings) into tens of thousands of potatoes. Sweet potatoes also serve as an economic development seed crop that can fund for other crops, animals, sewing machines, etc.
The need is so severe, we’re hoping more people will engage. I have a photo as my cell phone screen display that shows two boys from Malawi with distended bellies eating from food GIFT provided – and I cringe whenever I look at it. And I cringe even more so whenever I open my refrigerator door and see all the food my family enjoys, knowing those boys hardly eat. I’ve also saved a newspaper clipping of a photo of a famished, skin-to-the-bone child sitting in a basin in Somalia starving, right next to an article about billions being spent on weapons in some other part of the world. I hope we can all prioritize caring for our brothers and sisters around the world.
|Gordon:||In closing, please share with our readers a prayer to reduce global hunger.|
|Gordon:||Thank you for the beautiful prayer, your advocacy, and insights into some of the pressing global challenges|