CRS History

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How CRS came about

In 1943, the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States established Catholic Relief Services to help war-torn Europe and its refugees recover. During World War II, CRS’ work focused on the resettlement of war refugees in Europe. Today, more than 70 years later, our mission continues to focus on the poor overseas, using the gospel of Jesus Christ as our mandate. We continually seek to help those most in need, providing assistance on the basis of need, without regard to race, creed or nationality.

CRS expands

In the 1950s, as Europe regained its balance, the agency began to look to other parts of the world, seeking out those who could benefit from the assistance of Catholics in the United States. For the next two decades, Catholic Relief Services expanded its operations and opened offices in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Disaster relief & breaking the cycle of poverty

During this time of expansion, CRS built on its tradition of providing relief in emergency situations and began to seek ways to help people in the developing world break the cycle of poverty through community-based, sustainable development initiatives. These programs -- which today include agricultural initiatives, community banks, health, education and clean water projects -- ensure that the local population is the central participant in its own development and that a project can be sustained through the effort and resources of the local community.

Continuing commitment

In the 1990s, the presence of Catholic Relief Services in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch in Central America or man-made tragedies, such as Kosovo, was complemented by a continuing commitment to the development of civil society in these areas.

Here and now

Today, CRS continues to work in creating a more just and prosperous world for all. Since the early 2000s, CRS has applied a theory of change grounded in the concept of Integral Human Development, or IHD, which promotes the good of every person and the whole person.

IHD, as found in Catholic social teaching, supports the ability of each individual to realize his or her full human potential in the context of just and peaceful relationships, a thriving environment and solidarity with others.

IHD is the sustained growth that everyone has the right to enjoy and represents an individual’s cultural, physical, natural, economic, political, social and spiritual wholeness. IHD includes enjoying family, society and nature, as well as the gifts that come from learning new things, from earning a dignified living and contributing to a rich civil life.

True Integral Human Development is a long-term, dynamic process based on human dignity and right relations. It means working with a variety of actors to transform the way that societies live, heal and structure their relationships. Progress toward IHD is achieved through active engagement with others in a just and peaceful society that respects the sacredness of life and the dignity of every person.

IHD is a central component of the CRS agency strategy and the work CRS does with its partners.  The IHD concept is relevant for both the poor we serve overseas and the Catholic community and other people of goodwill in the United States. It affirms human development cannot be reduced or separated into component parts.

CRS is about bringing a vision to life, and the IHD concept provides the basis of our vision. Through the IHD conceptual framework, we can more clearly understand the world of the poor, including their strengths and their needs, so we can guide effective programming.


Global solidarity

With more than 70 years of experience overseas, Catholic Relief Services understands that rebuilding societies requires more than mortar and bricks. Through its work, the agency seeks to foster within the U.S. Catholic community a sense of global solidarity, providing inspiration to live out our spiritual tradition of compassionate service to the world.

Living out the mission

Today, in the early years of a millennium and with renewed commitment to the most vulnerable members of the human family, we continue to reassess our mission. We do so, ever mindful of fulfilling our gospel mandate in a way that most clearly reflects the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, the foundation upon which our work is built.