The devastating earthquake in Haiti called our attention once more to the outstanding work of Catholic Relief Services — a work made possible in no small measure by the tremendous generosity of the Catholic faithful in the United States. Each year you respond most generously to this important work usually through a second collection during the Lenten season. This traditional generosity has been augmented over the past two months through the charitable spirit and warm good heartedness of people all over our country. Here in the Diocese of Syracuse our schoolchildren have joined with our adults in contributing over $604,180 to relieve the suffering and desolation of the people of Haiti. Your generosity shows that you recognize the three constituent elements of the Church noted by Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est: proclaiming the Gospel, celebrating Mass and the sacraments and reaching out in need to our suffering brothers and sisters. When we act with compassion, generosity, and commitment to justice for the “least among us,” we are truly Christ’s disciples.
The theme of this year’s collection for Catholic Relief Services is “Give Hope to Jesus in Disguise.” It is scheduled to be taken up in most parishes of our country on the weekend of March 13th and 14th. During the course of any given year there are many second collections. Sometimes the cause is unclear. With that in mind I would like to tell you a little of the history and the work of Catholic Relief Services.
Founded in 1943 by the Bishops of the United States as War Relief Services to help address the many needs that resulted from the Second World War, its name was officially changed to Catholic Relief Services in 1955. The fundamental motivating force in all activities of CRS is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it pertains to the alleviation of human suffering, the development of people and the fostering of charity and justice in the world. Today CRS remains the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This agency today provides assistance to 80 million people in more than 100 countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. CRS provides relief in emergency situations and helps people in developing countries break the cycle of poverty through community based, sustainable development initiatives. Assistance is based solely on need, not race, creed or nationality. Catholic social teaching is a guide for all CRS programs and all programs are regularly evaluated according to social justice criteria.
The agency headquarters are located in Baltimore, Md. but there are field offices on five continents. There are more than 5,000 CRS employees around the world. The Board of Directors is comprised of both clergy (many of them bishops) and the laity. It is worth noting that in 2008, 93% of all funds raised were used for programs and 7% for fundraising, awareness and administration.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York is the chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services. In a recent communication he noted that, through God’s grace, the building that houses the center of the charitable work of Catholic Relief Services in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is still standing. The buildings around it were either destroyed or heavily damaged in the earthquake, but this source of charity remains standing as a beacon of hope and a source of organized relief in a country filled with suffering, death and devastation.
The work, therefore, of Catholic Relief Services continues and it is made possible through your generous response. Thank you for what you have already done. I count on your continued assistance as we serve to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Haiti, now in Chile and throughout the world. God bless you!
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
(If you have an intention that you would like added to Bishop Cunningham’s prayer list, please notify him at P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y., 13201-0511.)