January 16, 2006

A New Mission

Catholic Relief Services is introspective after the tragedy in Rwanda and is setting out a new course:

[I]n April 1994, the genocide began – upwards of a million people murdered over a scant three months. All of our carefully cultivated development programs were destroyed. Peace had not been part of our mission.

We took a hard look at ourselves. In the end, all the good work we did – the silos and schools we built, the children we fed, the farms we planted – wasn’t enough. After much reflection, CRS resolved to address not just the symptoms of crisis – the burned out houses, food shortages and refugee movements. We also had to attack the systems and structures that underlie oppression and poverty in so much of the developing world.

We began incorporating a justice-centered focus in all of our programming. And we rediscovered a jewel in our Catholic tradition that has enabled us to do this effectively: Catholic Social Teaching.

Catholic Social Teaching places the dignity of the human person at the center of all we do. With Catholic Social Teaching as our guide, we adopted a new strategy. We started to re-examine all of our work – our programs, our policies, how we relate to the people we serve, how we relate to the Catholic community in the United States, how we relate to one another as fellow employees of CRS – and evaluate our relationships in terms of whether they help to build a culture of justice, peace and reconciliation.

For us, relationships count. Providing assistance can foster harmonious relations or reinforce imbalances in societies.We come for the long term. And we work with local people and organizations, soliciting their input and quickly putting them in charge of their own destinies. We also assess the possible negative impact that our aid might bring so we don’t inadvertently reinforce inequalities or distort the local economy. And we try to identify opportunities for building just and peaceful relationships among groups in the places we serve.

We now know it’s important to consider not only the type of relief that is delivered, but also how it is delivered. CRS wants to avoid making the people we serve become dependent on the aid they receive. Catholic Social Teaching stresses the importance of upholding dignity as well as promoting self-sufficiency. We can’t do the work alone, nor should we.We work and respect local agencies, which are either already our partners or have the potential to become our partners. This is the true meaning of solidarity – not just writing a check, but concrete action on behalf of the suffering.

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