Catholic Relief Services

Faced with the suffering caused by World War 60 years ago the Catholic bishops of the United States founded the War Relief Services. That organization evolved into Catholic Relief Services, which can now look back on a proud heritage of supporting disaster relief efforts throughout the world during six decades.



In its early years, the agency helped nearly 100,000 displaced persons settle in the United States. It distributed surplus food to those left homeless by the partition of India and Pakistan and began outreach programs in Albania, South Korea and in the Philippines. Tragedy also marked that early period. In 1945 a twin-engine military plane crashed into the Empire State Building in New York City and killed 11 C.R.S. employees.

In 1950 Catholic Relief Services began one of its most visible and successful undertakings, the Thanksgiving Clothing Appeal, which collected millions of pounds of clothing for emergencies. During the Korean War the agency helped hundreds of thousands of refugees by providing food, clothing and medicine. Following the 1954 partition of Vietnam, relief aid was provided to the nearly one million refugees who fled the north.

Operation Rice Bowl, another significant and highly visible initiative, was started and adopted by the bishops in 1977 as the official Lenten program of C.R.S. In 1972 American dioceses collected more than $3 million for relief aid following an earthquake in Nicaragua to provide material assistance and help rebuild and rehabilitate damaged structures. In 1998, following the destructive Hurricane Mitch, reconstruction efforts were undertaken throughout Central America.

C.R.S. is especially concerned to work with partner organizations to maximize relief efforts. In Lebanon it worked with the United States Agency for International Development, initiating a $5-million project for the reconstruction of social welfare institutions affected by the hostilities. In Uganda it works with church partners in its first H.I.V. and AIDS initiative. Current H.I.V. and AIDS projects serve two million people in 30 countries, representing a commitment of $17 million.

Because of its far-flung activities, which require fast action on the ground, it is not surprising that the service has had management problems that require careful monitoring by its board of directors and the infusion of expert advice to ensure that its personnel are properly trained and supervised. The agency has also recently conducted an internal re-examination of its role in the world. What was developed was a way of looking at programming, called “justice lens,” to ensure that it not only meets immediate needs but also challenges traditional structures of oppression and impoverishment.

A recent example of the application of the “justice lens” is the report by C.R.S. on the use of oil revenues in Africa. This report conservatively estimates that governments in sub-Saharan Africa will receive more than $200 billion in oil revenues in the next 10 years. This money should be used to improve the lives of the citizens. But when governments are not accountable to their people, hopes for improvement wane. While the primary responsibility for structural improvement rests with the oil-producing countries themselves, the United States and other Western nations have a responsibility to use diplomatic and financial means to encourage fair distribution of this new oil wealth in Africa. This insistence that Africa’s oil must be of benefit to Africans is as integral to the C.R.S. mission as is the distribution of relief aid.

The 1997 statement of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Called to Global Solidarity, has prompted C.R.S. to encourage the American Catholic community to live in solidarity with people everywhere. C.R.S. has created a Global Solidarity Partnership, which matches U.S. dioceses with dioceses overseas for a better understanding of one another’s lives.


The remarkable accomplishments of C.R.S. were made possible only through the generosity of the American Catholic community and the heroism of staff workers throughout the world. The needs are and will continue to be enormous. But even as C.R.S. observes its 60th anniversary, it continues to work tirelessly. In the West Bank this summer it ran a camp in El Khader to teach children coping and survival skills. In Liberia it works with its partner organization Caritas Internationalis to distribute emergency medical kits. In just two days in mid-June it distributed 90 metric tons of food aid to thousands of displaced Liberians. In Iraq it is distributing food and medical aid and has organized vocational training sites. Even in Afghanistan, it has participated in educational and teacher-training programs that are sensitive to the culture of the country. Wherever the need is greatest, C.R.S. has been and is present. We wish it many more decades of devoted service.

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11 years 11 months ago
On behalf of the Catholic Relief Services staff around the world, I would like to thank you for your recent editorial, “Catholic Relief Services” (9/1), recognizing C.R.S.’s 60 years of work. We at C.R.S. always appreciate a pat on the back. Many of us in the agency regularly look to America for your perspective on the issues that matter so much to us; as long admirers of your good work, we were proud to read your praise of us.

Our mission to help those in need around the world, and to further connect American Catholics to their brothers and sisters overseas, compels us forward each new day. Your kind recognition offered us a moment to reflect upon and appreciate what we have achieved, and it inspires us to do more and to do it better.

11 years 11 months ago
I was happy to read your editorial on the proud heritage of Catholic Relief Services over the past 60 years (9/1). My brother, Gene Moore, worked for C.R.S. during its early years providing food aid in Congo. Later, when he moved on to U.S.A.I.D. in Africa’s sub-Sahara he often worked in partnership with C.R.S. As a member of my congregation’s administrative board during those years, I often bemoaned the fact that appeals were received from so many deserving agencies. Gene always assured me that “wherever the need is greatest, C.R.S. is there.” In his memory I add my good wishes to yours for many more years of devoted service from C.R.S.


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