From Africa with love
Milwaukee Legate Chris Hoar’s mission of mercy aids poverty-stricken children
In an African village, Christopher Hoar asked 38 girls in a Catholic secondary school classroom why they thought families in the United States would sponsor them financially.
The girls told Hoar that the American families, whom they had never met, proBaBly wanted them to have a Better life and Be educated. But none of the students could say what would motivate people living tens of thousands of miles away to sponsor them
A silence fell over the girls when Hoar told them the answer.
“Because they love you,” said Hoar, president and founder of Caritas for Children, a Milwaukee-Based nonprofit that is also the only Catholic child-sponsorship organization in the United States.
New Evangelization in action
That scene captured an essential truth about the bonds that develop between Caritas’ sponsoring families and the young children in Africa, Poland and Latin America who rely on the financial support to receive an education and have their basic needs met, with the hopes of fulfilling their human potential.
“The families really do fall in love with the children,” said Hoar, 63, a member of Legatus’ Milwaukee Chapter. “They’re realizing what it means to love one another, what it means to love my neighbor, to reach out to somebody else. It really is a spiritual encounter to do this.”
Hoar founded Caritas for Children in 1998, shortly after he and his wife adopted two children from an orphanage in Częstochowa, Poland. Hoar originally established Caritas as a resource to help Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago to facilitate international adoptions from Poland.
But Hoar saw an opportunity to do more, so Caritas for Children expanded into a child-sponsorship program that today supports children in Poland, as well as several locations in Africa, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Caritas for Children today is engaged in several other initiatives that include outreach programs for young adults and students, mission trips to Caritas locations in countries like Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, as well as support programs for religious congregations that partner with Caritas to assist the children in their local communities.
A connecting thread through Caritas’ activities is the New Evangelization, which Hoar says invites all to discover the joy of believing, serving and encountering Jesus Christ in one another.
“We didn’t start off thinking that way,” Hoar explained. “We discovered it as a result of the people coming to us who had sponsored children saying things like, ‘Chris, I thought this would be helpful for the child’ and ‘I just didn’t realize how good it would be for me, how much I get out of it.’
“I think we’re getting people to come in, listen and understand the Gospel message in a new way that binds people together in a very special way.”
Bishop Donald J. Hying of Gary, Ind. — a former auxiliary bishop in Milwaukee who has known Hoar for about six years — said Caritas makes a “substantial impact” in helping Catholic organizations in developing countries provide children with food, clothing, shelter, education and hope for a better future.
Bishop Hying also said that Hoar knows the value of cultivating strong relationships and bonds of friendship between sponsors, religious communities and children.
“He’s helping people to see the overall spiritual mission of Caritas so that it’s more than simply providing material aid, but really a way of living out the faith, a way of evangelization, a way of spreading God’s life and love in the world,” Bishop Hying explained.
Father Richard J. LoBianco, Caritas’ director of Catholic Mission and the New Evangelization, said Caritas for Children focuses on connecting one child with one family at a time.
“It’s like sowing seeds that really grow into something greater in the Kingdom later,” Fr. LoBianco said. “We say our core mission is child sponsorship, but we see our mission as creating communities of Caritas where it all really connects together with Christ at the center.”
Father LoBianco describes Hoar as someone who knew early on that God had called him to do something with his life beyond making money.
On the business side, Hoar helps operate Caritas Vehicle Services, a division of Fleet Services, Inc., which maintains vehicle fleets belonging to religious communities. Caritas for Children, Fr. LoBianco said, enables Hoar “to live out his true passion, his vocation as a Christian.”
Walking with the poor
Hoar, who grew up Catholic, said his work with Caritas for Children and his experiences in the mission fields have deepened his own faith life. The work, he said, has brought him closer to understanding the Gospel.
“I love to go to the mission field to see the kids,” Hoar said. “It’s amazing how it truly makes a difference in people’s lives. I think that’s what we’re all called to do here, one way or another.”
Hoar’s experiences with Caritas for Children have also helped give him deeper insights into the special way in which Christ identifies with the poor.
“Walking with the poor is one way, first of all, that you encounter Christ,” Hoar said, who quoted John 13:34 as the whole basis for Caritas’ ministry. In that passage, Christ tells his apostles: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love one another.”
Said Hoar: “Christ commanded us to love one another. In that regard, we get to understand what that really means — and the rewards from giving are far greater than from receiving.”
A Legatus member since 1999, Hoar said he attends most of the Milwaukee Chapter’s monthly events. Several of his fellow Legates have sponsored children through Caritas, he said.
“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of fine people through Legatus. When you find yourself surrounded in community with other like-minded people, it’s a great thing,” said Hoar, who added that Caritas for Children is poised for continued growth in its apostolate.
“God loves us,” he said. “He doesn’t ask much of us. All he wants us to do is love one another. And when we do that, the world is a better place.”
BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.