Take this simple quiz: 1. What is Catholic Relief Services? 2. What year did CRS begin, and why? 3. How many countries does CRS serve? 4. What are the guiding principles of CRS? 5. What three words used in the CRS logo define our purpose?
As I travel around the diocese preaching about CRS and giving presentations, I am struck by how many people can't answer the first question, let alone the other four. This month marks the end of the celebration of 75 years of Catholic Relief Services, and still many folks have not become familiar with our work. As diocesan director for CRS I would like to see that change.
The simple answer to the first question is that Catholic Relief Services is the official U.S. Catholic Church agency for international aid. What Catholic Charities does locally within the United States, CRS does internationally. Catholic Charities and CRS are two arms of the U.S. Catholic Church that reach out to the poor and vulnerable - one within the U.S. and the other outside of it.
CRS began in 1943, established by the U.S. Bishops as the War Relief Services, with a mission to help refugees fleeing the terror of World War II. Since then CRS has worked in over one hundred countries around the world and has served over 136,000 people.
CRS responds to disasters like the tsunami that hit Sulawesi, Indonesia killing 2,000 people. But we are also instrumental in long-term projects for agricultural, educational and peace-building efforts.
Because we are an official agency of the Catholic Church, CRS operations and outlook always conform to the social doctrine of the Church, also known as Catholic Social Teaching. Our respect for life, commitment to helping people in determining their own future, and living out the option for the poor and vulnerable all show the Gospel values that drive CRS every day.
But perhaps the most foundational tenet of Catholic teaching for us is that of solidarity. As St. John Paul II taught, "(Solidarity) is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all."
In these days, when there is so much talk of "nationalism" and "America First," solidarity stands in contradiction to the focus on our own needs and our own success and instead points us to the reality that we are all one body in Christ - everyone around the world connected not only to Christ, but to each other. St. Paul reminds us that because we are all one body, "If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."
And as for the fifth question above - those three words are: Faith, Action, Results. We have faith in the people we serve and our shared ability to build a more just and peaceful world; we act collaboratively to bring about real improvements in peoples' quality of life; and our actions must be effective in alleviating human suffering, and empowering people to achieve their full potential.
Celebrate with us on 75 years of dedicated service to the poor around the world.