Catholic Relief Services, the Crown Jewel
of American Catholicism's Generosity

For the past six years, I have been privileged to serve on the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services. CRS is the organization financed by American Catholics which provides assistance to the poor of the Third World. It is one of the largest and most effective relief agencies in the world. Each year on Laetarae Sunday (fourth Sunday of Lent), a collection is taken up in all the churches of the United States to support the work of CRS. Utilizing government grants and donations from many sources, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provides programs that amount to more than $200,000,000 in assistance. CRS gives assistance in more than 70 countries.

As a member of the Board, I recently visited our programs in Nicaragua and El Salvador. I have previously made trips to Kenya, and Rwanda in Africa, and to the Philippines. The Central America trip indeed made me proud of what our Church is doing to help the needy in those poor and war-torn areas. I met with bishops, priests, sisters, lay leaders, and very poor people in the humblest remote areas to see the effects of CRS programs and to encourage our staff in the field. We are reaching literally hundreds of thousands of needy. One major program is for the health of mothers and babies. There is a very high infant mortality rate and our medicine and health training programs are making a real difference. We are also assisting with programs to help farmers be more effective in planting and harvesting. Finally, a major program (which is touching tens of thousands of people) is called the village banking project; it helps very poor people obtain access to capital whereby they can improve their economic condition. CRS isn't simply a matter of giving a poor hungry family a bag of beans, but rather a process whereby we are helping to develop the ability of people to take care of their own needs. CRS is a concrete example of what we can do to give real practical assistance to the less fortunate. I hope that you who read these words have been generous to CRS in the collection, or that you will be moved to provide some financial assistance to the good work of CRS.

While in Nicaragua, I had the great privilege of celebrating Mass in the hospital chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot to death in 1980. He had spoken out against human rights abuses and had taken a stand for poor people in El Salvador. I visited the small house where he had lived and saw the blood-soaked vestments he was wearing at the time of his murder. My eyes focused on the tiny hole the bullet made when he was shot. The people have already declared him a prophet, martyr, and saint. His cause for canonization is presently in Rome. We pray that the blood he shed will bear fruit in justice and peace for that part of the world. Let us pray for CRS and those who make this outreach of our Catholic Church in the United States a reality.