Catholic Relief at 50


The coming of Catholic Relief Services in 1989 made Baltimore, in the words of Archbishop William H. Keeler, "the world capital of Catholic charity." The agency is the largest nongovernmental provider of foreign emergency aid in the United States, and also the largest such charity under Church auspices in the world. So the commemoration of its 50th birthday is a matter of not merely global, not merely national, but also intensely provincial pride and joy.

The agency that became CRS was founded by the bishops of the Catholic Church of the United States in the middle of World War II to provide aid to Polish refugees dispersed in hostile environments and far-flung cultures. It has grown each year since, to take the globe on its shoulders. To list the countries in which it does not operate is easier than to list those in which it does.

This agency of the Catholic Church, run by a board of bishops, operates on West Fayette Street with less than 200 staff members, administering a program of aid that in 1991 amounted HTC to $260 million. This is a professional outfit whose members operate in the field and then back at headquarters, just like a foreign service. Most of its employees are abroad, nationals of the countries in which it dispenses aid. A model philanthropy, it ,, spends just 5 percent of its budget on administration and 2 percent on fund-raising and awareness.

CRS is involved in disaster and emergency relief, refugee relief and resettlement, general welfare for the poorest and, increasingly, development assistance to help people and communities to support themselves and take charge of their own lives.

It was in Somalia before the Marines. It is in Cambodia. It is where the headlines are, and where they ought to be, such as Liberia and southern Sudan. It is -- unimaginably for an American Catholic organization a few years ago -- in Russia.

Profoundly religious in motivation, CRS helps on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality. Most of its support actually comes from the U.S. government, for which it distributes food and performs other services. Some aid comes from other charities that value the effectiveness of CRS. About $54 million in 1991 came from private sources in the United States, which includes collections in church, gifts from donors Catholic and non-Catholic, and endowment income.

Some folks and institutions are starting to get creaky at 50. Catholic Relief Services is just hitting its stride.

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