Tag Archives: Africa

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.


Milwaukee Legate Chris Hoar founded Caritas for Children in 1998

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.


Chris Hoar poses with ministry partners in Uganda in July 2015

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.”

Spiritual bonds

Bishop Donald Hying

Bishop Donald Hying

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

Father Richard LoBianco

Father Richard LoBianco

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.”


Chris Hoar poses with children from Uganda in July 2015

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.

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Homes where the heart is

DOUG SHARP is transforming Africa’s landscape by building innovative new houses . . .

Doug Sharp knows about building homes.

As the chairman of BSB Design, a leading architectural planning firm, Sharp has built some of the finest communities of luxury homes in America. A member of Legatus’ Des Moines Chapter, Sharp knows the security and dignity that a good house can give — something he wanted to provide for the poor. The question was how.

A new type of house

abod-1Eight years ago, he received a challenge.

“A friend of ours had recently traveled to Soweto in South Africa, which is full of shanties,” Sharp explained. “The conditions of the people living in these informal settlements were awful. They use anything they can to put together a home — tires, metal, rags. My friend came back and challenged us to do something: to come up with a home for $2,000 that one family could build in one day.”

Sharp’s firm accepted the challenge. After coming up with 15 different prototypes, they settled on the Abōd, a durable home that can be built by four people in a day.

The Abōd — pronounced “uh– bohd” — uses a “catenary arch,” a steel arch that holds up a lightweight frame. Abōds can withstand bad weather with their hurricane-grade panels and are fireproof and easy to ship. The structure’s main materials are corrugated metal and plastic panels. The houses can be built on a concrete foundation or recycled rubber mats. Quarter twist fasteners hold the frames together.

Abōd interiors can accommodate a ceiling fan and a loft/sleeping area. The roof can hold small solar panels, and the buildings are easy to move.

“We felt it was important that houses be portable because often in Third World countries people don’t own the land,” Sharp said.

The entrepreneur eventually created a nonprofit in 2006 called Abōd Shelters. His group is using a business model whereby non-profits raise money to build Abōd homes. A team of South African manufacturers are producing all Abōd parts, thus reducing shipping costs.

“All Abōds have safety features like locks on front and back doors,” Sharp said. “The doors are solid. Also, we try to build each community of homes in a circular setting for added safety.”

The original goal was to price the Abōds at $2,000, but the materials cost much more. Right now, they go for $3,300 in Africa.

Building communities

Doug Sharp

Doug Sharp

In 2009, the first community of five Abōd homes was built in Limpopo, a small province in South Africa. The homes were going to be used to house AIDS orphans in a project run by Dr. Jim Blessman, a Christian pastor from Iowa.

The Blessmans ran into difficulties with South African social services and its orphanage regulations, so the Abōd homes were turned into staff housing for locals working with Blessman Ministries.

“Our local pastor in Limpopo now lives in an Abōd home and he is very pleased,” Blessman said.

Blessman Ministries ordered another set of five Abōd homes in early 2013, which were built for what Africans call the “grannies” — grandmothers and great grandmothers.

“We let the grandmothers live in an Abōd for $10 per month,” Blessman said. “We give them all the food they need during the month, and they end up bringing their grandchildren to live with them. Almost all of these children have either lost one parent or both to AIDS.”

Blessman Ministries had another set of five Abōd homes built late last year for their safari game farm, which generates income for the ministries. The homes accommodate staff who had been living in shacks.

“They helped us design a community,” Blessman said. “Doug Sharp has come over to South Africa three times. He is very interested in our feedback.”

Another group of Abōd homes in Zambia was built in September.

“We built three girls dormitories for a school,” said Michelle Rothfus, Abōd’s project coordinator. “They had 100 girls living in facilities that were meant for 50. The funding was provided by the U.S. charity called Hoops of Hope, and World Vision provided resources on the ground.”

For Sharp and his family, being in South Africa and participating in the construction has made a deep impact.

“It changed our lives, just being there with my wife, my son, his wife and their friends,” he explained. “God has been so good to us. It made us appreciate things more — the country we live in, the safety we have, the lifestyle we have, even the food in our refrigerator.”

Faith and work

Sharp grew up Methodist, though his family rarely went to Church. He became interested in Catholicism after meeting his wife Marilyn, a devout Catholic. He converted after the birth of their second son.

“We joined the Des Moines Legatus chapter 10 years ago and I was president for a few years,” he said. “It’s a wonderful group of people who are very supportive.”

Working on the Abōds has been a way for Sharp to combine his architectural talents with his desire to help others.

“The goal with Abōd was, first, to provide dignity and an affordable housing solution, and second, to provide an economic trigger to the communities where they are located,” said Ginny Shiverdecker, Abōd’s marketing director. In fact, Abōds are built with the ability to be transformed into retail stores.

Although Sharp and his team will be doing Abōd builds in Ghana and Zambia early next year, they would like to bring Abōds to the next level and build 100-unit communities or greater.

“The U.N. talks about the problem of growing slums, especially around urban settings,” said Shiverdecker. “The Abōds can be a solution. We want them to be used for disaster relief. Often in disasters people are given tarps, but tarps don’t last long. The Abōd is a long-term solution.”

Sharp and his team have spoken to U.N. officials who showed great interest, but they’ve discovered that the most action-oriented groups tend to be faith- based.

“They have connections, projects on the ground, and relationships,” said Shiverdecker.

It is Sharp’s hope that Abōds can be used to help people on a larger scale.

“We would love to have a warehouse with thousands of these Abōds ready to go as soon as disaster strikes,” Sharp explained.

Abōd markets itself simply with the motto “One home, one family, one day at a time.” As the issue of housing for poor people grows increasingly dire, this Legatus member provides a real solution today.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

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Mission: Africa

Legates are ambassadors of hope on one of the world’s poorest continents . . .


Art Wigchers in Uganda

When Legate Chuck Ormsby Jr. and his wife Linda started praying about where their parish youth group might expand its outreach to the poor, they agreed to be open to wherever God led them.

But the Pennsylvania couple never expected it to be Africa.

Nonetheless, when a visiting priest at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Richboro, Pa., pointed to the youth group at Mass in 2006 and said, “You must come to Uganda,” Linda Ormsby jumped up and said, “We’re coming!”

Her enthusiastic “yes” was the seed for Building a Bridge to Uganda, a crosscultural partnership between the Pennsylvania parish and St. Charles Lwanga Bubaare Parish in southwest Uganda.

Vibrant church

As the Ormsbys have gotten to know the people of Uganda over the years, they and other American Catholics are discovering another face of the universal Church, one that inspires them in their faith and spurs them to action.

“The Church in Africa is a vibrant church,” said Steve Hilbert, foreign policy advisor on Africa and global development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Though not the largest of the continental churches, the African church is the fastest-growing with 154 million members in 2009, compared to just 2 million in 1900. Africa has seen a 54% increase in the number of priests since 1994.

“Africans are very spiritual, very religious,” Hilbert added. “They have a lot to teach us about what it means to be happy and how little it takes to be happy — and how much hope a person can maintain in their heart and soul despite poverty, conflict, suffering and even misery.”

Indeed, at the opening of the recent Synod for Africa last October, Pope Benedict XVI called Africa “an enormous spiritual ‘lung’ for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”

Partners, not saviors

Even as Africa lags behind the rest of the world economically, environmentally, socially and politically, Hilbert said, the Church there has recognized the need to step up and become more unified, prominent and prophetic within individual countries.

Thanks to evangelization efforts in the early part of the 20th century when thousands of Euro-American missionaries went to the continent, Hilbert said, the Church has a huge footprint through its network of schools and health clinics. As a result, “Even in countries where the Church is a small part of the population, its impact and influence are larger than the percentage of people who are Catholic.”

This means that when Western Catholics like the Ormsbys want to get involved, they do so as partners, not as saviors leading the charge. Although Westerners are often able to provide disadvantaged people with everything from food to funds, those who know the African terrain recognize the value of looking to the people and local organizations for direction.

“The Church in Africa is very active and doing some excellent work,” Hilbert said. “Our role is to support them and to support their efforts.”

Chuck Ormsby recalled that when he first talked with Fr. Joseph Sserugo in 2006 about going to Uganda, he was thinking in terms of what his group could build. “We’re Americans,” he told the priest. “We build things.” But Fr. Sserugo responded, “You are not going to build anything other than relationships. I want you to come and love my people.”

The St. Vincent group agreed and sent the Ormsbys’ daughter, Ashleigh, who was then 23, and Bill Monaghan, the parish music minister, on an initial visit in 2007. They spent a month teaching classes and blending into the culture.

One of the first things Ashleigh noticed was the children’s lack of toys. Ormsby said his daughter asked him to bring suitcases filled with stuff for the kids when he made his first trip to Uganda.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that,” he explained. “We have these preconceived notions about what they need. It’s not until you sit down with them and start to understand their life that you come away with a completely different sense.”

Africa’s gift


Chris Hoar in Uganda

As the Pennsylvania group deepened its relationship with the Ugandan people, they saw other needs and were able to purchase mosquito netting and new mattresses for dormitories at one of the schools.

In 2007, Building a Bridge to Uganda was formed in order to take on bigger projects, such as drilling a well and building a church. They are now raising funds to build a high school on 30 acres of donated land.

The group’s approach of supporting structures already in place and working with local people to identify needs is employed by many Catholics who do mission work in Africa. It was in this spirit that Legate Christopher Hoar of Milwaukee, for example, started CARITAS for Children in 1998.

The group works with Catholic religious communities in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to help orphaned children through a sponsorship program that supplies food, school uniforms and other clothing, books, educational supplies, basic medical support, clean drinking water and, in some cases, tuition.

“To be successful in developing countries, especially on a limited budget,” Hoar said, “we start with the most dedicated women. These are the ones that will get the job done — who have vowed their lives to this work. They know the many languages, the culture, the people most in need, and have the gift of the Holy Spirit working in them that you simply cannot buy with a paycheck.”

Hoar said his philosophy is based on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which says that matters ought to be handled by the lowest or least centralized competent authority.

“I would not do it any other way,” he said. “It has made all the difference.”

Likewise, Art Wigchers, a Legatus member from Brookfield, Wis., said he has seen the importance of working with partners on the ground in Africa through serving on the board of the Catholic Relief Services Foundation.

Wigchers has been an “ambassador of hope” to several African countries, including Uganda, where he has evaluated programs for their effectiveness and cost-efficiency. Back home, he advocates for CRS by giving presentations to church, community and neighborhood groups about the organization’s work.

“When you go into one of these countries,” he said, “there are maybe four or five international staff and another 95 locals, plus the partners are all locals. That’s why they’re so effective. They develop the program around what the people need.”

Wigchers said traveling to Africa has made him realize that he can no longer look at the Catholic Church strictly through American eyes. “You have to realize the Church is much bigger than the United States, and that the culture of other countries is very important.”

He said Africa’s gift to the worldwide Church is its people. “I see people — selfless people — so willing to help. Some of the young deacons and priests in Africa have been some of the best human beings I’ve ever met.”

Hilbert said Catholics who want to help the Church in Africa can start by doing research about the continent and learning what the Church is doing there. They can also get to know one of the estimated 400 African priests serving in the U.S. today. “Find out where they are in your diocese, invite them to your parish and have them talk to you about Africa.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.



Building a Bridge to Uganda

CARITAS For Children

Catholic Relief Services