Catholic Relief Services

Last updated
Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Relief Services logo.png
Founded1943;79 years ago (1943)
Founder United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Type International NGO
Focus Humanitarian aid
Area served
Key people
Sean Callahan,
President and CEO
Most Reverend Gregory John Mansour, Bishop of Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn,
Chairman of the Board
US$ $923 million (2020) [1]
5,211 [2]

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. Founded in 1943 by the Bishops of the United States, the agency provides assistance to 130 million people in more than 110 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.


A member of Caritas International, the worldwide network of Catholic humanitarian agencies, CRS provides relief in emergencies and helps people in the developing world break the cycle of poverty through community-based, sustainable development initiatives as well as Peacebuilding. Assistance is based solely on need, not race, creed or nationality. Catholic Relief Services 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 13 clergy (most of them bishops) and 10 lay people. [3]


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. In Asia, CRS supplied food rations to the Republic of Vietnam Military Forces. [4] CRS's executive director during this period (1947–1976) was Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom. [5] One of the key relief workers in those early years was Father Fabian Flynn, CP, who directed their efforts in Germany, Austria, and Hungary. [6]

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.[ citation needed ]

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. [5]

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.[ citation needed ]


CRS programming promotes human development by:

CRS also serves Catholics in the United States to help live their faith in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world.

In 2019, CRS released its new agency strategy, Vision 2030, [7] centered around upholding human dignity by cultivating just and peaceful societies, accelerating the end of poverty, hunger, and preventable diseases, and alleviating suffering worldwide.

In order to make these aspirations a reality, the organization outlined five goal areas to focus on between 2020 and 2030. CRS has dedicated itself to ensuring that:

  1. All people live in just and peaceful societies,
  2. All people survive and thrive in the face of disasters,
  3. All people achieve dignified and resilient livelihoods in flourishing landscapes,
  4. All children reach their full health and development potential in safe and nurturing families and,
  5. All youth are empowered to thrive.

These goals also connect with and support the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals of: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, clean water and sanitation, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, life on land, and peace, justice and strong institutions.


CRS' work overseas 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 program participants in programming decisions. Program examples include:

In the United States

The agency has also made engaging the Catholic population in the United States a priority. In 2018, CRS created a new division dedicated to this outreach called "Mission and Mobilization."

Members of CRS Chapters also support Mission and Mobilization's new Lead the Way on Hunger and Lead the Way on Migration campaigns.

One of the oldest ways for U.S. Catholics to support the organization is through CRS Rice Bowl. Established in 1977, millions of 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. 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 programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America - such as the provision of food, access to clean water and meeting other essential needs. [14] The remaining twenty-five percent stays in the diocese for local poverty and hunger alleviation projects. [15]

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. [16]

Emergency responses

Hurricane Maria

In September 2017, CRS responded to the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that hit several Caribbean islands, killing more than 3,000 people and causing more than US$91 billion in damage. Hurricane Maria, which hit the region less than two weeks after Hurricane Irma, made landfall on the island of Dominica with winds registered up to 160 mph. In the immediate aftermath, together with Caritas partners, CRS distributed 7,000 food and hygiene kits to families in Cuba, and more than 1,700 kits to families in the Dominican Republic. As the U.S. Catholic Church's international humanitarian agency, CRS focused on relief efforts in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Antilles, while its sister agency, Catholic Charities, directed aid to those affected in the United States and its territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Typhoon Mangkhut

More than 600,000 people in the Philippines were affected by Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit the island in September 2018. Nearly 1.6 million farmers and fishermen were affected by the storm, and the country lost between 80 and 90% of its rice and corn crops. Distant villages were initially difficult to reach, as debris and landslides covered several roads across the country. CRS responded with water purification tablets and jerry cans for families sheltering in evacuation centers in Benguet. [17] Staff also focused on providing emergency shelter, hygiene kits, and cash transfers for those most in need. [18] In partnership with Caritas Philippines, CRS heavily invested in disaster risk reduction and preparedness for communities in the country.

2018 Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami

In late September 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Sulawesi, Indonesia, triggering a tsunami, which hit the city of Palu. Combined, the two events caused the deaths of more than 4,300 people and damaged more than 70,000 homes, leaving thousands of people homeless. The initial impact of the earthquake and tsunami caused the collapse of phone lines and damaged the local airport, making it more difficult for humanitarian organizations like CRS to respond immediately. [19] [20] When CRS staff were able to safely reach hard hit areas of the country, together with Caritas Indonesia, they focused on supplying food, clean water, household items, and emergency shelter. [21] More than 6,000 families were initially provided with these emergency kits. Part of CRS' response focused on providing cash assistance to local families, which not only allowed them to buy desperately needed essential items, but also supported local businesses during the crisis, allowing them to stay open and operational.

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth

In early 2019, Southern Africa was hit by back-to-back cyclones, Idai in March and Kenneth in April. Combined, more than 1,300 people were killed and the cyclones caused more than US$2.3 billion in damage. The cyclones hit areas of Southern Africa already experiencing drought followed by severe rains and flooding. Cyclone Idai flooded more than 407,000 acres of farmland in Mozambique, making food insecurity worse for the country. After Cyclone Idai hit, CRS and local church partners provided emergency shelter in the hardest-hit areas, as well as distributed emergency items like hygiene kits and clean water. [22] [23] Cyclone Kenneth hit less than a month later, flattening entire villages and leaving more than 150,000 people in Mozambique alone homeless. The second cyclone increased an already dangerous situation, as most emergency supplies were depleted after Cyclone Idai hit the region. Despite this, CRS worked with local governments in Mozambique to provide emergency shelter, food, and other life-saving supplies to families in Pemba. [24]

COVID-19 pandemic

Like other humanitarian organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic [25] required CRS to adjust its programming to keep staff and those it serves safe. At the beginning of 2020, most CRS country programs were able to continue their work by carrying out programs remotely. Due to global lockdowns, the shift from in-person work to virtual work was necessary. As lockdowns began to ease, programs were started up again immediately, meeting global requirements like physical distancing and wearing of masks. A big component of CRS' response has included public information and awareness campaigns, drawing on the organization's experience with Ebola. Throughout the countries were CRS works, staff have also been installing hand-washing stations in community areas like schools and markets.

CRS has been vocal in calling for the U.S. Congress and Trump administration to pass COVID-19 emergency funding bills providing support for those suffering from COVID-19 both within the United States and overseas.

As of October 2020, CRS has COVID-19 specific programming in 73 countries and is supporting healthcare facilities with their COVID-19 response in 34 of those countries.


CRS has also responded to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Typhoon Haiyan, the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the 2016 Ecuador earthquake, and Hurricane Matthew. It also continues to respond to ongoing international crises including the Syrian refugee crisis and Central African Republic crisis.

Awards and recognition


Catholic Relief Services has been criticized by Catholic groups for its approach to education regarding contraception, in particular condoms. [26]

Accountability standards

See also


  1. "Catholic Relief Services 2020 Annual Report" (PDF). Catholic Relief Services. Catholic Relief Services. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
  2. 1 2 "Wise Giving Report for Catholic Relief Services". Better Business Bureau. Retrieved 2010-01-13.
  3. "CRS Executives". Catholic Relief Services. 10 September 2015. Retrieved 2017-01-04.
  4. "African Activist Archive".
  5. 1 2 "Catholic Relief Services History". Catholic Relief Services. 2013. Retrieved June 18, 2013.
  6. Sean Brennan The Priest who put Europe Back Together: The Life of Father Fabian Flynn, CP (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018)
  7. "Agency strategy". 25 January 2019.
  8. Agriculture
  9. "Education".
  10. Emergency Response
  11. Peacebuilding
  12. "Youth".
  13. "Youth Employment".
  14. "Four Looming Famines Highlight Need for CRS Rice Bowl".
  15. "About CRS Rice Bowl | CRS Rice Bowl". 7 October 2015.
  16. U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Global Trust members
  17. "Catholic groups aid Philippines in wake of Typhoon Mangkut".
  18. Mele, Christopher (15 September 2018). "Typhoon Mangkhut: How to Help". The New York Times.
  19. "Indonesia earthquake and tsunami: Dead buried in mass grave". BBC News. October 2018.
  20. Paddock, Richard C.; Suhartono, Muktita (28 September 2018). "Tsunami and Earthquake in Indonesia Kill Nearly 400, Officials Say". The New York Times.
  21. "CRS helps victims of Indonesia earthquake and tsunami".
  22. "As cyclone slams Africa, churches, aid agencies coordinate response". 20 March 2019.
  23. Beirne, Aodhan (21 March 2019). "Here's How You Can Help People Devastated by Cyclone Idai". The New York Times.
  24. "Aid workers struggle to reunite kids, families after Mozambique cyclones". 7 May 2019.
  25. "Coronavirus: Facts and How to Help". 28 February 2020.
  26. "CRS reviews allegations that educational materials breach church teaching".

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation (OB) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) humanitarian organization founded in the United States. Beginning in 1978, OBI has worked in more than 90 countries and every state. Implementing programs that provide disaster relief, medical aid, clean water, hunger relief, community development and orphan care, Operation Blessing is governed by a national board of directors.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Jewish relief organization based in New York City

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, also known as the Joint or the JDC, is a Jewish relief organization based in New York City.

Music for Relief is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded by the rock band Linkin Park in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Throughout its first twelve years, thanks to incredible artist partners, donors and supporters, Music for Relief responded to more than 30 natural disasters across four continents providing immediate relief and funding long-term recovery with a focus on sustainability. Always thinking about collaboration, in March 2018, Music for Relief announced it would join forces with Entertainment Industry Foundation to amplify the results of its disaster relief and recovery work.

The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is a series of United Nations conferences focusing on disaster and climate risk management in the context of sustainable development. The World Conference has been convened three times, with each edition to date having been hosted by Japan: in Yokohama in 1994, in Hyogo in 2005 and in Sendai in 2015. As requested by the UN General Assembly, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) served as the coordinating body for the Second and Third UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2005 and 2015.

Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin) is a former British international non-governmental health charity which sends medical experts to global emergencies. In July 2013, Merlin merged with Save the Children.

Food for Life Global

Food for Life Global is a non-profit vegan food relief organization founded in 1995 to serve as the headquarters for Food for Life projects. Food for Life Global has roots in ISKCON dating back to 1974, it is a completely independent non-profit organization that supports the work of Food for Life projects both inside and outside of ISKCON. Its network of 264 affiliates span the globe, with projects occupying over 60 countries. Volunteers provide up to 2 million free meals daily. Food For Life engages in various sorts of hunger relief, including outreach to the homeless, provision for disadvantaged children throughout India, and provision for victims of natural disasters around the world.

Medair Natural disaiser aid organization

Medair is an international non-governmental organisation (INGO) whose purpose is to relieve human suffering in some of the world's most remote and devastated places. Medair aims to assist people affected by natural disasters and conflict to recover with dignity through the delivery of quality humanitarian aid.

CARE Australia is an Australian, not-for-profit, secular humanitarian aid agency assisting in disaster relief efforts and addressing the causes of global poverty in developing countries. It is one of a confederation of 12 national members of CARE International, forming one of the world’s largest international emergency aid and development assistance organisations. It was founded in 1987 by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser who led it until 2002.

Malteser International

Malteser International is an international non-governmental aid agency for humanitarian aid of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Developed in 2005 from the foreign aid service of Malteser Germany, and having the status of an independent eingetragener Verein since 2013, the agency has more than 50 years of experience in humanitarian relief. It currently implements around 100 projects in some 30 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and the Americas. The organization's General Secretariat is located in Cologne, Germany with regional headquarters for Europe and the Americas located in Cologne and New York City respectively. The membership of Malteser International consists of 27 national associations and priories of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who are responsible for supporting the organization within their jurisdictions.

Emergency Architects Foundation

The Emergency Architects Foundation is a French non-governmental organization, reconnue d'utilité publique. It is organised as a not-for-profit foundation with the French Order of Architects as supporters and is accredited by the United Nations and the European Union. The Emergency Architects Foundation is also present in Australia and in Canada . The aim of Emergency Architects is to bring help and technical aid to the victims of natural, technological and human disasters, not only in safety and security evaluations of the populations but also in post-disaster reconstruction programs focused on long-term development and risk mitigation.

Cyclone Nargis North Indian Ocean cyclone in 2008

Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Nargis was an extremely destructive and deadly tropical cyclone that caused the worst natural disaster in the recorded history of Myanmar during early May 2008. The cyclone made landfall in Myanmar on Friday, 2 May 2008, sending a storm surge 40 kilometres up the densely populated Irrawaddy delta, causing catastrophic destruction and at least 138,373 fatalities. The Labutta Township alone was reported to have 80,000 dead, with about 10,000 more deaths in Bogale. There were around 55,000 people missing and many other deaths were found in other towns and areas, although the Myanmar government's official death toll may have been under-reported, and there have been allegations that government officials stopped updating the death toll after 138,000 to minimise political fallout. The feared 'second wave' of fatalities from disease and lack of relief efforts never materialised. Damage was at $12 billion, making Nargis the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the North Indian Ocean at the time, before that record was broken by Cyclone Amphan in 2020.

ShelterBox is an international disaster relief charity established in 2000 in Helston, Cornwall, UK, that provides emergency shelter and other aid items to families around the world who have lost their homes to disaster or conflict. The charity's HQ is based in Truro, Cornwall UK where a visitor centre was also located up until 2020. The disaster relief visitor centre is now permanently closed due to concerns over coronavirus and the financial impact of the pandemic. It used to host various exhibitions related to the disasters the charity has responded to, a weather lab, and other activities for children and school groups.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) first began its work in 1943. It is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency provides assistance to people in 99 countries and territories based on need, regardless of race, nationality or creed. Catholic Relief Services is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide. Caritas Internationalis is the official humanitarian agency of the global Catholic Church.

IsraAID is an Israel-based non-governmental organization that responds to emergencies all over the world with targeted humanitarian help. This includes disaster relief, from search and rescue to rebuilding communities and schools, to providing aid packages, medical assistance, and post-psychotrauma care. IsraAID has also been involved in an increasing number of international development projects with focuses on agriculture, medicine, and mental health.

Episcopal Relief & Development

Episcopal Relief & Development is an international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church. It was established in 1940 as the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief. Episcopal Relief and Development works in approximately 40 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North America, and the Middle East. They build partnerships with local Episcopal and Anglican dioceses and related organizations based on need, capacity and available resources.

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is an organizational unit within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that is charged by the President of the United States with directing and coordinating international United States government disaster assistance.

Mercy Relief is a non-governmental humanitarian organization in Singapore. The organization was officially launched in 2003, by the then-Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, it seeks to promote a life of compassion, care and volunteerism.

Caritas Internationalis Catholic relief, development and social service

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries and territories worldwide.

CMMB (Catholic Medical Mission Board)

The Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) is an international, faith-based NGO, providing long-term, co-operative medical and development aid to communities affected by poverty and healthcare issues. It was established in 1912 and officially registered in 1928. CMMB is headquartered in New York City, USA, and currently has country offices in Haiti, Kenya, Peru, South Sudan, and Zambia.

Cyclone Idai South-West Indian Ocean cyclone in 2019

Intense Tropical Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. The long-lived storm caused catastrophic damage, and a humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving more than 1,300 people dead and many more missing. Idai is the deadliest tropical cyclone recorded in the South-West Indian Ocean basin. In the Southern Hemisphere, which includes the Australian, South Pacific, and South Atlantic basins, Idai ranks as the second-deadliest tropical cyclone on record. The only system with a higher death toll is the 1973 Flores cyclone that killed 1,650 off the coast of Indonesia.