In her current position, serving the poorest and most vulnerable overseas, Woo travels constantly. She engages with governments, the local Catholic Church in each country and the Vatican on matters relating to the conditions and solutions pertaining
to these populations and setting the tone for how CRS manages its relationships with more than 1,100 partner organizations across the world.
The job, she says, requires “incredible intellectual learning about relief and development and the political, economic, cultural and religious dimensions of the communities that CRS serves. It also mandates the ability to intuit complex relationships, how they work and their interdependence.”
Carolyn Woo digs in the newly dedicated keyhole demonstration garden next to CRS’ world headquarters in Baltimore, MD. The garden was dedicated at CRS’ 70th Anniversary celebration on May 31, 2013. (Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS)
A typical two-week period might find her in Ohio and then Lima, Peru; New York City and India; California and Europe. Home base is still in South Bend, Indiana, but she maintains a one-bedroom apartment in Baltimore. She likens it to the dorm suite she called home while a staff resident at Purdue’s Graduate House West — simple and cozy.
Though named in April 2013 as one of the “500 most powerful people on the planet” by Foreign Policy magazine, Woo exhibits a self-effacing and good-humor personality when asked about her work, world travels and the challenges of being a female leader in a world where men are still mostly at the helm.
“I’m a Chinese woman representing a U.S. organization, and I’m Catholic. Whatever stereotypes people have get lost pretty quickly,” she says of her international work. “I don’t fit the stereotype of my job. In Africa, Latin America, South Asia, I’m myself.”
In her July 2013 column for the CRS newsletter, Woo writes about how childhood prepared her for her job:
I grew up in a refugee culture in Hong Kong where millions of people had fled the Communist revolution. As early as fourth grade, I translated documents such as utility bills and tax notifications for relatives who could not read English, the official language of Hong Kong. Our dinner table conversations were peppered with stories of acquaintances who had lost not only material possessions, but also their social positions and professional credentials.
It is ironic that I would now serve an agency that started life 70 years ago resettling refugees from war-torn Europe. Today, Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the global Church are fully engaged in responding to the plight of displaced people.