A graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., his first venture onto the international stage came as a student when he traveled to Peru in the late 1980s as part of a university social work program taking part in a reforestation project.
After graduation, Garofalo worked for several years as a research editor for Reader's Digest, but the lure of the "compelling issues" beyond the borders of his home country was too strong. Those issues include, he explained, peoples of the world struggling with poverty. Many of them have cultural, political and economic connections to the United States culturally, as well as a desire to immigrate to this country because of its economic opportunity and freedoms.
He went to graduate school at the University of Texas, eventually traveling to Latin America in 1994 to do more social work. The following year Garofalo joined Baltimore-based CRS (Web site: www.crs.org) in its Media Department. For almost three years he was assigned to Cuba. Although CRS has no office there, he visited several times a year working on humanitarian and development assistance programs.
Garofalo said the Catholic Church in that beleaguered island nation is "embattled," but for the first time the Church and government are "talking to each other," with officials there looking to the Church to help in the inevitable transition in Cuba when Fidel Castro, the ailing dictator, dies.
His next destination for CRS was Belgrade, Serbia. Garofalo was there during the tumultuous time following the Kosovo War eight years ago and helped to reopen the local CRS office. Following that assignment, he returned briefly to Cuba.
Working in the Holy Land, he has been involved with CRS humanitarian, food assistance and youth education programs. CRS, Garofalo pointed out, has been in the Holy Land more than four decades and "is part of the landscape."
He interacts mostly with Muslims, who are the majority of the population. Christians, according to Garofalo, account for some 2 percent of those who call the Holy Land home. Of that amount, he lamented, an estimated 5 percent is leaving each year.
CRS sponsors programs in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Since its time in the Holy Land, according to information from spokesman Tom Price, CRS has "represented the solidarity of American Catholics in the Holy Land." Its projects "aim to support peace with justice in this troubled region while responding to the humanitarian and sustainable needs of the Palestinians," he added.
As for the future of Christians in the Holy Land, Garofalo is blunt-"it is up to us." If the exodus of Christians continues, he fears the Holy Land some day could become a place of "museum sites for Western Christians." To avoid that, he stressed, economic conditions have to improve.
Catholic Relief Services representative Thomas Garofalo offered a blunt assessment regarding the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and the economic hardships they face. If the exodus of Christians continues, he fears the Holy Land could become a place of "museum sites for Western Christians." Pictured here is a candlelight procession for peace held June 22 in Beit Sahour, the West Bank, which called for unity among Palestinians.
Garofalo said he was attracted to CRS because "the Church has a huge role to play around the world preserving human dignity and protecting human rights." CRS programs in the Holy Land, according to Price, address severe unemployment resulting from the ongoing conflict and restrictions on movement, lack of a quality educational environment, immediate food and agricultural shortfalls and what CRS terms "the need for opportunities for meaningful participation of young people in Palestine community life."
Price said CRS' efforts in the region are in support of its "long-term goals of securing justice and promoting a lasting peace for all local people regardless of creed or nationality." Examples of CRS programs include Emergency Humanitarian Aid, Emergency Assistance to University Students, Food for Work and Training, and Palestinian Infrastructure for Needed Employment.
CRS emphasizes building future leaders in Palestine, "empowering youth and guiding them toward constructive avenues of expression by giving them opportunities to positively change their own society." CRS also works with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Catholic Campaign for Peace. The undertaking engages Jewish, Christian and Muslin religious leaders and communities in an effort to promote a "just peace" in the Middle East.
Diocesan bishops and Catholic leaders are called upon to partner actively with local religious leaders in the Jewish, Muslim and other Christian traditions with the goal of creating what CRS terms "a shared commitment to the broad outlines of a just resolution of the conflict and to raise a united voice with policy makers and the wider public." CRS helps bridge this dialogue and increase awareness of the humanitarian crisis and the issues affecting peace. It does this by facilitating the flow of information from the region to the USCCB and targeted dioceses.