Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Founded in 1943 by the U.S. bishops, the agency provides assistance to 130 million people in more than 90 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. A member of Caritas Internationalis, the worldwide network of Catholic humanitarian agencies, CRS provides relief in emergency situations and helps people in the developing world break the cycle of poverty through community-based, sustainable development initiatives. Assistance is based solely on need, not race, creed or nationality. It is headquartered in the Posner Building in Baltimore, Maryland, while operating numerous field offices on five continents. CRS has approximately 5,000 employees around the world. The agency is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of 15 clergy (most of them bishops) and six lay people.
Initially founded as the War Relief Services, the agency’s original purpose was to aid the refugees of war-torn Europe. A confluence of events in the mid 1950s — the end of colonial rule in many countries, the continuing support of the American Catholic community and the availability of food and financial resources from the U.S. Government — helped CRS expand operations. Its name was officially changed to Catholic Relief Services in 1955, and over the next 10 years it opened 25 country programs in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. CRS's executive director during this period (1947–1976) was Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom.
As the agency grew, its programming focus widened, adapting to meet the needs of the post-World War II Roman Catholic Church and the circumstances of the people it encountered. In the 1970s and 1980s, programs that began as simple distributions of food, clothing and medicines to the poor evolved toward socio-economic development. By the late 1980s, health care, nutrition education, micro enterprise and agriculture had become major focuses of CRS programming.
In the mid-1990s, CRS went through a significant institutional transformation. In 1993, CRS officials embarked on a strategic planning effort to clarify the mission and identity of the agency. Soon after, the 1994 massacre in Rwanda – in which more than 800,000 people were killed – led CRS staff to reevaluate how they implemented their relief and development programs, particularly in places experiencing or at high risk of ethnic conflict. After a period of institutional reflection, CRS embraced a vision of global solidarity and incorporated a justice-centered focus into all of its programming, using Catholic social teaching as a guide.
All programming is evaluated according to a set of social justice criteria called the Justice Lens. In terms of programming, CRS now evaluates not just whether its interventions are effective and sustainable, but whether they might have a negative impact on social or economic relationships in a community.
CRS programming includes
emergency relief in the wake of disasters and civil conflict
long-term development programming in the areas of agriculture, community health, education, health, HIV/AIDS, micro finance and peace building.
Overseas work is done in partnership with local church agencies, other faith-based partners, non-governmental organizations and local governments. CRS emphasizes the empowerment of partners and beneficiaries in programming decisions. Program examples include:
Agriculture — CRS’ immediate goal is to improve family well-being through agro-economic development and environmental stewardship. The long-term goal is to strengthen the capacity of local communities to take control of their own development.
Emergency Response — Natural and human-caused disasters disproportionately affect the lives of the poor. CRS works to ensure that disaster-affected populations are at least able to meet their basic needs and live a life with dignity. The agency works directly with affected communities and local partners to help restore and strengthen their pre-disaster capacities.
HIV/AIDS — CRS promotes community-based programs that help those infected, address the underlying causes of AIDS and reduce the spread of HIV. CRS is the lead agency in a consortium that is expanding the delivery of antiretroviral treatments to people infected with HIV in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Funding for this venture comes from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In addition to this, programming addresses AIDS-related stigma, poverty and the special vulnerabilities and burdens faced by women. Included in CRS’ HIV/AIDS work is home-based care for individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS; support to orphans and vulnerable children affected by AIDS; behavior change and life skills education; voluntary counseling and testing; and projects that help increase beneficiaries’ livelihoods.
Peacebuilding — The agency's commitment to global solidarity led CRS to adopt peacebuilding as an agency-wide priority. Peacebuilding in this context is defined as the long-term project of building peaceful, stable communities and societies. CRS assembled a team of regional advisors and a headquarters-based technical staff to work with partners, and peacebuilding projects were started in dozens of countries. Each summer, CRS conducts training programs for its staff and overseas partners at the Mindanao Peace Institute in the Philippines and at University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. An increasing number of bishops from developing countries have attended these sessions.
In the United States
The agency has also made engaging the U.S. Catholic population a priority. CRS is seeking to help Catholics more actively live their faith and build global solidarity. Program examples include:
CRS Rice Bowl — Nearly 12 million parishioners, students and teachers participate in CRS’ Lenten program, which emphasizes prayer, fasting, learning and giving. Materials offer daily prayers, recipes for simple meals and stories that teach about life in the developing world. And the bowl itself, a symbol of both hunger and hope, is used to collect funds for those in need. Seventy-five percent of funds raised support development projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America; the remaining 25 percent stays in the diocese for local poverty and hunger alleviation projects.
Global Solidarity Partnerships — Tailored to an individual diocese or faith community, the initiative helps U.S. Catholics to connect with the poor overseas through education and awareness activities, reciprocal visits, shared faith and prayer experiences, as well as financial support for specific locally appropriate development programs.
Catholic Relief Services serves as a leading member of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based coalition of over 400 major companies and NGOs that advocates for increased funding of American diplomatic and development efforts abroad.
Catholic Relief Services has served in Haiti since 1954. Over 50 years of experience allowed CRS to respond to the earthquake immediately and has positioned the agency to be a key development actor as the country rebuilds. The agency works through a broad network of partners, including the Catholic Church in Haiti.
CRS is fostering local leadership and helping communities develop the knowledge, understanding and skills to build local capacity so that Haitians drive their own recovery. CRS has committed to a $200 million, 5-year earthquake recovery program in partnership with more than 200 local organizations, focusing on community revitalization and shelter, health, water and sanitation, and protection.
Awards and recognition
Villanova University: On May 18, 2008, the Rev. Peter Donahue, President of Villanova, conferred the degree of Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa on Ken Hackett for his work as President of Catholic Relief Services. Mr. Hackett was also selected to give the commencement address, and spoke eloquently to the Class of 2008.
University of Notre Dame: On May 20, 2007, CRS President Ken Hackett received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree and was among nine people recognized by Notre Dame in the fields of national and international politics, education, medicine, the arts, humanitarian work and the Catholic Church.
2007 Aurora Award: CRS earned a Gold Award from the Independent Film and Video Competition for our "Water for Life" documentary video, which explores why more than 1 billion people do not have adequate access to clean water.
2006 Pakistan Star of Sacrifice: On September 21, 2006, CRS was awarded the prestigious Sitara-i-Eisaar (Star of Sacrifice) honoring the agency's comprehensive and timely response to the devastating October 8, 2005 Pakistan earthquake. CRS was among the first agencies to respond, providing emergency supplies, shelter, education, water and sanitation materials, and livelihood support.
2005 Caritas Flame of Hope Award: Catholic Charities saluted CRS' work around the world in bringing the very core of Christianity to millions suffering from natural disasters as well as human cruelty and injustice.
Knight Commander of Saint Gregory the Great: On October 31, 2004, CRS president Ken Hackett received the Knight Commander of Saint Gregory the Great medal, one of the highest papal honors. The ceremony took place in the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, Maryland, and recognized Hackett's outstanding service to the papacy and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Millennium Challenge Corporation: On July 13, 2004, following the recommendation of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, President George W. Bush nominated CRS President Ken Hackett to sit on the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors. Hackett was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is charged with improving the accountability and impact of foreign assistance.
2011 American Institute of Philanthropy: Catholic Relief Services was named a top-rated charity and given the rating of A+ by AIP for efficiently using the majority of funds toward programming versus fundraising.
2011 Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance: CRS was found to meet all 20 Standards for Charity Accountability, which take into account an organization’s governance, financial accountability, truthfulness and transparency. The September 2011 audit found that only 2% of the CRS's expenses were for administration, leaving 3% for fundraising and 95% for program costs.
November 2011 Chronicle of Philanthropy: CRS was ranked 51st out of 400 charities in Chronicle of Philanthropy's Annual Top 400 Philanthropy List.