SALT LAKE CITY — Those who work at Catholic Relief Services "strive every day to express the love and solidarity of Catholics in the United States with the poor and vulnerable overseas," Annemarie Reilly, CRS executive vice president of strategy and organizational development, told a group gathered June 27 at the home of Saint Vincent de Paul parishioners Dom and Ginny Albo.
CRS was formed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1943; Operation Rice Bowl is perhaps its best-known fundraiser, but Catholics in the U.S. also are asked to contribute to an annual collection for the organization.
Like most people, the Albos receive numerous requests for donations. They support certain favorite charities, "but other than that it’s difficult to know what and where to give," said Dom Albo.
However, "CRS is just tremendous," he said. "They service, if you can believe, 100 million clients a year. They are in almost 100 countries and they partner with everybody, including the LDS Church, and they do this with only a 6 percent overhead."
The Albos feel so strongly about CRS that they hosted an informational evening about the organization. Reilly, who has spent 20 years with CRS, was the presenter. She has worked all over the world, including in Liberia, Haiti, Kenya and South Africa.
Of the Catholic Church’s three pillars – the sacraments, the Word, and social teachings – "the social side is incredibly important in terms of how we express the love and solidarity that we feel for others around the world, and I feel that Catholic Relief Services is a manifestation of that," Reilly said.
She related several of her experiences, including the time she went to Angola during its civil war. Her job was to set up a food program for 90,000 people suffering the effects of not only the war but also drought. One day while she was registering people for the program, MiG jets flew overhead, scattering the hundreds of people in front of her.
"The bombs, thankfully, came nowhere near me, but it gave me the sense of what those people live like in those kinds of situations – the fear that was in them that they had to live with every day," she said. "It just drove home for me how important it was for them to have people like me and my organization there in solidarity with them and showing them that they’re not alone; that the world did care.... I knew that the work that we were doing was helping to protect their human dignity because they didn’t need to starve along with being terrified of bombs."
In addition to CRS’ emergency relief efforts, the organization undertakes development work; 63 percent of its programs focus on long-term solutions such as improving agricultural practices, providing access to clean water, and education.
Although CRS is a Catholic organization, "we don’t proselytize," Reilly said. "We do this work because we are Catholic, not because we’re trying to make other people Catholic."
That message resonated with Janet Martineau, a Cathedral of the Madeleine parishioner who was baptized last Easter. Martineau said she was impressed that CRS didn’t "want to turn people into Catholics. I think that’s great because with so many people, that’s their ulterior motive."
Likewise, John Wilson, a Saint Vincent de Paul parishioner, said that Reilly’s presentation convinced him that CRS is worth supporting, particularly because of its focus on humanitarian needs. "It’s that sort of an approach that is going to help them be accepted in these countries that need so much help, because I think a lot of these governments are alienated by and threatened by proselytizing activities," he said.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, is chairman of CRS’ Overseas Operations Committee, and he urged those at the event to consider donating to CRS. "The work of CRS is incredible," Bishop Wester said, adding that if Utah Catholics "think of your parish, think of Catholic Community Services, and think of CRS, then you’re hitting right at home, you’re hitting all around home and you’re hitting the world, and you’re doing it in a very effective way that’s going to influence a lot of people."
Catholic Relief Services is the official overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
• Working in almost 100 countries
• Reaching more than 100 million of the world’s poorest people
• 94% of donations go to programs that benefit the poor overseas
• 37% of CRS programs focus on emergency relief
• 63% of CRS programs are for rebuilding and reconstruction
For information, visit http://crs.org