Catholic Relief Services celebrates 75 years of helping ‘poorest of the poor’

  • Written by Morningstar Stevenson
  • Published in Local
A nurse screens a baby at the Bayamah Health Outpost baby nutrient clinic in Sierra Leone. The program is supported by Catholic Relief Services, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing aid around the world. A local celebration was held in Seattle April 21. Photo: Karen Kasmauski for CRS/Sierra Leone A nurse screens a baby at the Bayamah Health Outpost baby nutrient clinic in Sierra Leone. The program is supported by Catholic Relief Services, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary of providing aid around the world. A local celebration was held in Seattle April 21. Photo: Karen Kasmauski for CRS/Sierra Leone

SEATTLE – In 2003, Sue Jackels began working with Catholic Relief Services to help Nicaraguan farmers improve the quality of their coffee crops.

After a decade, Jackels — a member of St. Therese Parish in Seattle and professor emeritus of chemistry at Seattle University — asked the farmers if she had done anything that helped. “You believed in us,” she said they told her. “You came back again and again and gave us hope.”

Her work with CRS has been “an incredible faith journey,” Jackels said during a local 75th anniversary celebration of the global aid organization.

Catholic Relief Services traces its origins to 1943, when U.S. Catholics asked their bishops if there was something the church could do to help war refugees in Europe. The initial effort, known as War Relief Services, has spread to more than 100 countries in the past 75 years.

CRS is unique because it goes where many others don’t, said Dorothy Grillo, senior director of regional outreach for CRS U.S. operations, in an interview at the event hosted by the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Missions Office.

“We live out our commitment to serve the poorest of the poor,” Grillo said. “And we’re able to reach people even in the most remote areas, doing lifesaving work.”

Andrés Montenegro, program officer for the Catholic Relief Services Coffeelands initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean, brought Counter Culture coffee for those attending a local celebration of CRS’ 75th anniversary. The bags of coffee he brought represent the work of 54 farmers and 250 families. “This is their livelihood,” Montenegro said. “You’re paying for their efforts.” Photo: Jesús Huerta

‘Floored’ by generosity

The anniversary celebration brought together national, regional and local CRS staff, volunteers and supporters.

Jim DeHarpporte, who has worked for CRS since the early 1970s, said the agency’s strength lies in “networks and partnerships we have with the local church and others who share our commitment to Catholic social teaching” to serve the poor.

“You guys are terrific. We couldn’t do our work without you,” DeHarpporte told the attendees. “You are a part of our past, present and future.”

The work of CRS is done overseas on behalf of the U.S. Catholic community.

“We each have a role to play, whether it’s praying or participating in Rice Bowl or working overseas,” Grillo said. “We’re all generously giving back with those gifts we’ve received.”

The Lenten Rice Bowl program is one of CRS’ best-known efforts in the U.S., and the Archdiocese of Seattle has 100 percent parish participation. Of the donations collected, 25 percent stays in the archdiocese to support local programs.

“We’ve always been blessed and supported by CRS,” said Jose Ortiz, pastoral assistant for social outreach at St. Charles Parish in Burlington. He directs the Youth Migrant Project, a beneficiary of Rice Bowl. “I’m thrilled how [parishioners] open their hearts to CRS,” he said.

At St. James Cathedral, “our Rice Bowl collection this year of over $21,000 is the highest collection ever in our parish,” said Marina Furtado, a CRS parish ambassador at St. James. “I’ve been floored by the generosity of the parish.”

Sue Jackels, a member of Seattle’s St. Therese Parish, spent a decade working with Catholic Relief Services to help Nicaraguan farmers improve the quality of their coffee crops. She is shown at a local CRS 75th anniversary celebration with a bag of Counter Culture coffee, grown through the CRS Coffeelands project. Photo: Jesús Huerta

The next 75 years

The evening’s program also gave overseas staff the opportunity to share their stories. Andrés Montenegro, program officer for the CRS Coffeelands Program in Latin America and the Caribbean, said he sees his work as an extension of his faith.

“One of the key principles of our faith is ‘do unto others,’” Montenegro said. “That’s the very principle of our work. We are made saints through our daily job.”

Reflecting on what the next 75 years might bring, “I hope we continue to reach those on the periphery, promoting sustainability and independence,” said Angie Myers, a CRS planned giving development officer and member of St. Joseph Parish in Seattle.

Many of the staff expressed the hope that CRS won’t be needed because poverty will be eradicated. For others, like Montenegro, the hope is that CRS continues to be a driver of change.

“The work that we do makes us aware how a simple decision like supporting a charity can change lives,” he said. “We are committed to that change for good.”

Michael Kimani, center, Catholic Relief Services Coffeelands program manager in East Africa, speaks with Sue Jackels and David Rothrock during a local celebration of CRS’ 75th anniversary. Both Jackels and Rothrock have worked overseas with CRS. Photo: Jesús Huerta

       

Read more stories of CRS’ 75-year history.