Through the Years

History gives you a look at where you have been, but it also paves the path to where you are going. Our history began during World War II when we answered the call to serve migrants and refugees. Responding with compassion and care, we realized there was more to do and we accepted the challenge.

Seventy-five years later, our mission to serve the most vulnerable continues. We feed the hungry, act as instruments of peace, empower communities and are a voice for the voiceless. We are inspired and encouraged by you.

You—as a donor, partner, supporter, staff member or program participant—are the reason we do what we do.

Our story is your story.

Join us as we remember the last 75 years in this interactive timeline.

1940s
A Commitment to Care

In an outpouring of concern from Catholics in the United States, War Relief Services—later called Catholic Relief Services—is created by the U.S. bishops to help thousands of World War II survivors and refugees.

War Relief Services’ first logo
January 15, 1943

In an outpouring of concern from Catholics in the United States, War Relief Services is created by the U.S. bishops to help thousands of World War II survivors and refugees. From the very beginning, our operating principal is to assist people based on need, regardless of race, creed or nationality, and in partnership with local organizations, particularly Catholic Church agencies. Bishop Bryan McEntegart is named founding executive director.

July 1, 1943

CRS’ first project helps shepherd some 1,500 Polish refugees into Colonia Santa Rosa, Mexico, where we set up a safe haven for education, training and rehabilitation. The project continues for 4 years. Click to enlarge image and go back into history.

July 28, 1945

A twin-engine U.S. Air Force plane crashes into CRS offices in the Empire State Building, killing 11 employees.

1947

To help finance postwar international relief programs, CRS initiates the first annual Laetare Sunday Bishops’ Relief Collection.

August 1947

The Partition of India causes mass migration and widescale violence, leaving 50 million people homeless. CRS begins shipments of surplus food to the area.

1950s
Emerging from War

It’s a time of change, and a time of discovery. War Relief Services becomes Catholic Relief Services, with a focus on long-term development. As much as things change, the more they stay the same. CRS continues its mission to serve the most vulnerable among us.

Korean War, 1950-1953
1950

CRS conducts our first Thanksgiving Clothing Appeal, collecting more than 7 million pounds of clothing and soap to send to Europe and China during the winter. The program continues through the 1980s, when the need diminishes and associated costs increase. Click to enlarge image and go back into history.

1951

CRS helps hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Korean War, distributing food, medicine and clothing.

1954

CRS turns aid efforts to the nearly 1 million refugees fleeing North Vietnam following its partition.

Vietnam War, 1955-1975
1955

Reflecting a shift in our mission from war relief to long-term development, the bishops rename the agency Catholic Relief Services. The idea of using U.S. food aid to affect real change—including improved health and education, and sustainable livelihoods and farming—takes hold.

CRS becomes a principal supporter of the Missionaries of Charity, allowing Mother Teresa to reach more of the world’s poorest people, from India to Ethiopia. Today, we continue to forge a special partnership wherever both CRS and the Missionaries are present.

Late 1950s

CRS provides 62% of all U.S. government food shipped by private organizations, making us the largest provider of food aid in this category.

1960s
‘Development, the new name for peace

While the world is calling out for peace, CRS listens and acts. We forge partnerships to address world poverty, while promoting justice, development and a respect for human dignity.

1960, Las Vegas

At the urging of CRS’ Eileen Egan, Mother Teresa comes to the United States for the first time to address the National Convention of the National Council of Catholic Women. There, she thanks them—and CRS—for their early support of the Missionaries of Charity. Eileen, who joined CRS in 1943 as our first layperson, had met Mother Teresa 5 years earlier in Calcutta. She became an early advocate of her work and a lifelong friend and correspondent. Mother Teresa would visit CRS’ U.S. offices twice: once in New York in 1977, and once in Baltimore in 1996.

1961-1966

CRS partners with the National Catholic Welfare Conference to resettle nearly 500,000 Cuban refugees—70% of the total number—to Miami. In 1966, Migration and Refugee Services and Catholic Charities take over this work, making it CRS’ last refugee resettlement project in the United States.

1963

In response to a devastating drought in India, CRS establishes food-for-work projects. The projects prevent the mass migration of workers and improve infrastructure needed in rural areas.

November 5, 1964

During the Third Session of Vatican II, CRS Assistant Executive Director James J. Norris addresses the Council on World Poverty and the Christian Conscience, the first time a layperson has addressed the full assembly of bishops—and in Latin. It was the opening of the Commission for Justice and Peace.

October 5, 1965

CRS Executive Director Bishop Edward E. Swanstrom addresses the Council on World Poverty and the Christian Conscience, proposing: “concretely that the Church launch a deep and long-term program of education, inspiration and moral influence to promote among Christians and all men of good will a live understanding of world poverty and to promote justice and development in all their facets.”

March 26, 1967

Pope Paul VI issues Populorum Progressio, his encyclical on the development of peoples, calling development “the new name for peace,” and underscoring the tenets of Catholic social teaching and integral human development.

Biafran War, 1967-1970
1968

More than 1 million people are displaced during the Biafran War in what is now east and southeast Nigeria. During the famine that followed, CRS provides lifesaving emergency aid despite a total blockage of seaports and roads in the east. CRS organizes more than 100 risky night airlifts of food and medicine.

1970s
Touch a Hungry World

Drought, floods and international natural disasters inspire the world to act with compassion. And a simple bowl of rice starts a movement.

1972

In the wake of an earthquake that kills an estimated 10,000 people in Managua, American dioceses collect more than $3 million for CRS relief efforts in Nicaragua. CRS provides rehabilitation and reconstruction in addition to helping meet basic physical needs.

1972

Red Cross and Caritas workers, supported by CRS, distribute food and vaccinations to flood victims in Piura, Peru.

1976

A Tibetan refugee receives a polio vaccine at a CRS-sponsored refugee center in northern India.

1977

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopt Operation Rice Bowl—created 2 years earlier in Allentown, Pennsylvania—as CRS’ official Lenten program. Since then, CRS Rice Bowl has become a Lenten tradition in thousands of parishes and schools across the United States, providing a tangible way for families to pray, fast, give and learn about our poor brothers and sisters around the world. In 2017, CRS Rice Bowl raises more than $11 million to alleviate hunger overseas and in local dioceses in the United States.

1979

CRS’ quick response and partnership with the Catholic Organization for Emergency Relief and Refugees saves thousands of lives, and promotes skill building and food production in Thailand’s refugee camps for people fleeing violence in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Overall, aid reaches 300,000 people.

1980s
Interfaith Cooperation Staves Off Starvation

During a time of hunger and despair, there’s a silver lining when different faiths come together with one goal in mind: help those who need it most.

1980

CRS helps tens of thousands of people left homeless and injured during the Mezzogiorno earthquake in Italy. CRS’ emergency efforts exceed $15 million for more than 100 projects.

July 1983

Former U.S. Ambassador Lawrence A. Pezullo becomes the first lay executive director of CRS.

1984

In partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and Ethiopia’s three main churches—the Ethiopian Catholic Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus—CRS distributes 36,000 tons of food during the Ethiopian famine. Most is supplied by the U.S. government, feeding about 750,000 Ethiopians. CRS manages the distribution of 90% of the American food that enters the country and commits $15 million of privately donated funds to the emergency.

1987

In Colombia, CRS helps families access clean water through the Volcano El Riz Emergency Program water project.

1988

Women receive instruction in fashion design and tailoring through a CRS grant to the Rosary Sisters Sewing Training Center in Beit Hanina, Jerusalem.

1988

A CRS grant supports a small enterprise wheat-grinding venture for six families to produce flour during the first Palestinian Intifada.

1989

CRS begins our first HIV and AIDS initiative in Uganda with a local Church partner.

August 1989

CRS moves our world headquarters from New York City to Baltimore, Maryland.

1990s
The Shift to Justice

A massive genocide forces us to take a closer look at our work, our mission and our place in world events. A deep commitment to Catholic social teaching is re-energized and prioritized in our work.

Balkan Conflict, 1990-1991
1991-1994

Civil war breaks out in Somalia, where CRS has been working with partners for 30 years providing health, water, nutrition and agricultural projects. Approximately 350,000 Somalis die from war, disease and starvation. CRS closes its offices in Mogadishu in 1994, a year after rebels shoot down 2 U.S. Black Hawk helicopters, resulting in 19 deaths and causing a heated battle that kills hundreds more Somali civilians. CRS returns to Somalia in 2011 in response to drought and famine.

“The collapse of the government in Somalia in 1991, brought a vicious period of civil conflict between rival warlords. As is so often the case, this resulted in famine and starvation for the innocent victims caught in the midst of the fighting. CRS responded by providing relief food and medicine for the people in the villages surrounding Baidoa, establishing a vital lifeline for 120,000 Somalis. The situation was fragile and dangerous, the risks to our staff were substantial, but the need of the people is always the determining criteria for CRS.”

—Lawrence A. Pezzullo, CRS executive director, 1983-1992

1994

CRS is forced to evacuate Rwanda during a genocide that kills more than 1 million people in 100 days. Within weeks of leaving, CRS staff operating from Burundi and Uganda deliver emergency relief to thousands of traumatized people.

Late 1994

Introspection after genocide in Rwanda moves CRS to re-examine our role in world events and rediscover Catholic social teaching. The "justice lens" is established as a way of looking at our programming to ensure that it not only meets immediate needs, but also asks: What would a just world look like? How can we achieve this mission?

1996

Mother Teresa visits CRS headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

October 26, 1998

CRS responds to Hurricane Mitch, one of the worst hurricanes to hit Central America, killing 10,000 people. Emergency response and recovery programs in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador are the first to use our new justice-focused approach to help impoverished communities enhance the relationships they need to build back better.

“Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and wars have befallen our country. … I like to think of the people of Nicaragua like the phoenix, rising out of the ashes to fly again. They possess a strong spirit that will prevail.”

—Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, Archbishop of Managua

1999

CRS responds to devastating earthquakes in Turkey.

1999

CRS leads international relief efforts during the Balkan conflict.

“We want to empower parents and the community to give them a vested interest. It’s a form of ownership and responsibility. … Lack of participation in civic life has been the biggest threat to the region. We thought it would be best to start with children.”

—Kate Moynihan, CRS Kosovo zonal director

2000s
'They said it couldn’t be done'

Sometimes the impossible is possible. It takes partners, commitment and faith. Our world is stronger because of strong people and their dedication to making this world a better place.

2000

The CRS World Summit in Tampa, Florida, convenes 250 CRS staff representing every department, board members and partners from around the world to articulate our new vision: Solidarity will transform the world. This new vision would guide our strategy for the next 10 years, ushering a profound change in who we serve—poor, marginalized and oppressed people overseas—and how we engage the Catholic community in the United States to help them to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need.

2001

In response to the U.S.-led War on Terror, Catholic Relief Services reopens offices inside Afghanistan, as well as several offices in Pakistan near the Afghan border. There, we provide emergency assistance to more than 500,000 people. CRS also initiates longer term rehabilitation efforts in Afghanistan, focusing on education and peacebuilding.

2004

The CRS Board of Directors, consisting exclusively of bishops and clergy, appoints five lay board members, including two women.

December 26, 2004

After a tsunami in the Indian Ocean kills more than 250,000 people, CRS expands our presence and support to partners across the region. Thanks to unprecedented donor response—which results in more than $170 million in private donations and an additional $31 million from government and other institutional donations—we commit to a 5-year, 3-pronged program of emergency response, rebuilding and long-term development across India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. With our Caritas and local partners, we work with communities to build markets and homes, water systems, schools, hospitals and infrastructure for transportation.

2004-2013

After making HIV and AIDS a strategic priority in 2001, CRS takes a lead role in implementing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. The United States commits more than $70 billion through PEPFAR to fight HIV in 60 countries. It is the largest commitment by a single nation to address a single disease.

Spring 2005

CRS updates our agency strategy to improve business processes, talent management, monitoring and evaluation, and the use of information technology.

August 29, 2005

CRS provides technical support when Hurricane Katrina devastates the southern United States.

2006

The CRS Foundation Board is established to advance our mission by advising on key strategic initiatives, providing support and inspiring others to join us.

A young girl receives a blessing from Cardinal McCarrick at a Mass in Tacloban City in the Philippines.

March 2008

The CRS Board of Directors approves a new mission statement to better reflect “our Catholic identity, Catholic social teaching, our U.S. Catholic constituency, our understanding of partnership, our embrace of integral human development as an overarching conceptual framework for our work, and our broadened appreciation for what it means to help ‘create just and peaceful societies.’”

May 2008

CRS convenes the first ICT4D, or Information Communications Technology for Development, conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

July 2009

Boko Haram extremists escalate attacks in northeast Nigeria, claiming thousands of lives. CRS responds with critical relief and long-term support for uprooted families and devastated host communities.

2010s
‘We may stumble, but we will not fall
‘Nou bite men nou pap tonbe’
Haiti earthquake survivors

Our world has challenges, but it also has solutions. Those solutions are in every one of us. We are called to act, serve and love. Sometimes our path is not easy, but we always walk together.

January 12, 2010

After a 7.0-magnitude earthquake slams Haiti, CRS and Church partners lead a comprehensive 5-year relief and recovery effort.

For the Haiti earthquake, we raise more than $190 million—including the overwhelming support of $159 million in private donations, and rebuild St. Francis de Sales—a state of the art teaching hospital, reinvigorate Haiti’s education system and work with farmers to improve agricultural opportunities.

2010-2011

In early 2010, violence threatens the run-up to South Sudan’s national elections for secession on July 9, 2011. CRS launches a $4 million initiative to help promote peace across Sudan. In addition to providing emergency, agricultural, health and educational assistance, CRS and our local Church partners provide programs in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. In the United States, we raise awareness among Catholics to fund critical projects. Against all odds, the election is peaceful and South Sudan gains independence.

“People think of peace as cease-fire, but peace is … absence of fear, absence of anxiety.”
—Father Joseph Mawa of St. Patrick’s Church in Nimule, South Sudan

March 11, 2011

CRS provides support to our Caritas partners after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake strikes off the coast of Japan.

March 15, 2011

Protests in Syria lead to a massive conflict and large-scale displacement of the country’s population. CRS launches support for Caritas and local partners to meet the diverse needs of 1.4 million Syrian refugees as they flee violence, landing across the Middle East and Europe.

2012

CRS’ Savings and Internal Lending Communities, a comprehensive microfinance program for rural and marginalized communities, reach 1 million members in 35 countries.

Late 2012

Civil war in the Central African Republic leaves civilians caught in brutal crossfire. Many are displaced. CRS and Caritas provide emergency support, conflict resolution, shelter and agricultural recovery.

November 8, 2013

Super Typhoon Haiyan strikes the Philippines destroying 1 million homes and claiming 6,200 lives.

December 2013

As conflict and hunger worsen in South Sudan, CRS shifts from recovery to emergency programming, including food drops in areas at risk of famine.

February 2014

CRS and Caritas Ukraine begin humanitarian relief efforts after armed conflict breaks out between Ukrainian government forces and separatist groups in eastern Ukraine. Displaced populations receive support as they seek refuge, education and income opportunities.

March 2014

Once considered one of the toughest places in the world to eradicate polio, India is declared polio free by the World Health Organization. CRS is part of a consortium funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that provides immunizations in 12 high-risk districts in Uttar Pradesh, reaching an estimated 600,000 children under age 5.

April 2014

After the first reported case emerges in December 2013, CRS launches a multi-country response to the deadly Ebola outbreak across West Africa.

With, Caritas and local partners, CRS manages a $19.7-million Ebola response focused on disease prevention, support to local health systems, safe and dignified burials and community healing across the region. The World Health Organization declares the end of the outbreak on January 14, 2016.

May 2014

Heavy storms cause the worst flooding in the Balkans in more than 120 years. CRS assists in a massive clean-up and provides livelihoods support, especially for farmers, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

June 2014

CRS opens 4 offices in Iraq after violence by ISIS escalates, leading to the displacement of 3.4 million people over 2 years. Working closely with Caritas Iraq and local partners, we provide shelter, water, living supplies, education and emotional support.

July 2014

CRS joins the first team scaling-up seasonal malaria chemoprevention—a new, highly effective medication that prevents malaria in children and costs only $4 per child per year. In just 2 years, the intervention helps prevent more than 6 million cases of childhood malaria in 7 countries.

July-August 2014

Intense fighting between Israel and militant groups in Gaza leads to many deaths and infrastructure damage throughout the Gaza Strip. CRS services include home repair, which provides durable, culturally appropriate housing, despite restrictions on building materials.

October 24, 2014

CRS launches our 5-year strategy, From Hope to Harvest, introducing three signature program areas: emergency response and recovery, agricultural livelihoods and health. The strategy also includes five core competencies: partner collaboration and support; justice and peacebuilding integration; monitoring and evaluation, accountability and learning, or MEAL; information and communications technology for development, or ICT4D; and global brand management.

With Caritas Nassa and Caritas Philippines, CRS launches comprehensive emergency relief and recovery efforts supporting hundreds of thousands of people with urgent relief, as well as longer-term support to rebuild their homes, infrastructure and livelihoods.

2015

The refugee crisis overflows into Europe, with more than 1 million refugees arriving from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries experiencing conflict. Because of the dangerous sea route, 5,000 refugees drown in the Mediterranean. CRS opens and expands operations with local partners across Greece, the Balkans and southeastern Europe to provide critical support.

Because of the dangerous sea route, some 5,000 refugees drown in the Mediterranean. CRS opens and expands operations with local partners across Greece, the Balkans and southeastern Europe to provide critical support.

2015

Across Ethiopia, two failed rainy seasons lead to severely reduced harvests and food shortages. CRS boosts assistance to provide emergency food aid to 2.2 million people monthly—nearly a third of the Ethiopian population—and expands our response to include agriculture, water and jobs strengthening.

April 25, 2015

An earthquake in Nepal claims 8,669 lives and destroys more than 500,000 homes.

CRS and Caritas Nepal provide critical relief in hard-to-reach areas. Cash assistance strengthens the recovery of the local economy and provides income-earning opportunities, and we continue today to help families in the safe reconstruction of their homes.

May 24, 2015

Pope Francis releases Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, his encyclical urging the Church and the world to take immediate steps to alleviate the effects of climate change, especially its burden on the poor.

April 2016

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hits the near the town of Portoviejo, Ecuador, on April 16, 2016. More than 650 people are killed and thousands are injured. CRS and its partner Caritas respond by building temporary shelters and providing hygiene kits to survivors.

June 2016

As the Boko Haram crisis continues, CRS scales up our response across the Lake Chad Basin region, opening offices in Niger and Nigeria and expanding programming in Chad and Cameroon.

October 4, 2016

Haiti reels from Hurricane Matthew, which causes massive devastation and flooding. CRS helps farmers recover at the start of the first farm season, and helps reach thousands more in the next season. Recovery efforts include building the capacity of local civil and government leaders.

October 2016

CRS and local partners provide access to water and sanitation for South Sudanese refugees. CRS establishes an office in northern Uganda and expands programming to include access to livelihoods and transitional shelter in Bidi Bidi, one of the world’s largest refugee settlements.

December 2016

In 2016, CRS reaches more than 2.6 million children in the Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Niger with seasonal medication to prevent malaria. Preliminary data shows a 50% decrease in malaria cases, which means up to 20,000 children are alive today who otherwise might have died.

CRS and our partners invest more than $178 million in agricultural programming in 2016, supporting 9.3 million people in 43 countries.

2017

Severe drought and political upheaval contribute to a humanitarian crisis across East Africa and Yemen. CRS works with Islamic Relief in Yemen, and with local partners in Kenya and Ethiopia, to protect families. CRS and partners also respond to cholera outbreaks in Yemen and South Sudan. The United Nations praises the aid community for helping to ease famine, but violence and upheaval continue. In South Sudan, the Church remains a leader in saving lives and a voice for the wellbeing of the people.

February 2017

Mali faces multiple crises, including flooding, drought, food insecurity, conflict and displacement. CRS, Caritas and local partners provide critical humanitarian assistance. CRS also trains local partners in the use of technology for greater efficiency, and early warning groups on quality emergency response.

February 15, 2017

CRS launches Changing the Way We Care, our bold plan to take children out of orphanages, and support families and communities to care for them, starting in seven demonstration countries.

The initiative, in partnership with Lumos and Maestral International, is in response to MacArthur Foundation’s $100-million grant competition, 100&Change.

Summer 2017

The humanitarian crisis worsens in Venezuela, as inflation and political violence leave people without access to food, medical care or basic government services. CRS is the facilitating partner for Caritas Venezuela, focused on the health and food needs of the most vulnerable.

July 2017

Iraqi security forces retake Mosul from ISIS. By mid-August, an estimated 840,000 people are displaced. A slow process starts for their return in the Nineveh Plains. CRS and Caritas Iraq partner together to help communities.

August 2017

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, torrential rains cause a landslide burying families and more than 100 homes. CRS works with regional Caritas partners to provide living supplies, as well as shelter repair and access to clean water. CRS applies experience from the Ebola response to assist with safe, dignified burials.

August 2017

The refugee crisis in South Sudan becomes the world’s third largest—after those in Syria and Afghanistan—with more than 1 million people fleeing to Uganda.

In Bidi Bidi, the world’s largest refugee camp in northern Uganda, CRS provides emergency water, sanitation and hygiene services.

September 2017

Two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, affect millions of people in the Caribbean and the United States in less than 2 weeks. CRS prioritizes efforts in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Antilles, coordinating with Caritas partners, the United Nations and other humanitarian partners on various emergency needs.

September 19, 2017

Hundreds are killed in a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico City, just 11 days after an 8.1-magnitude earthquake strikes off Mexico’s west coast. CRS supports the Tehuantepec Diocesan Commission in Oaxaca state to procure and transport key emergency supplies from local markets. In central Mexico, CRS supports diocesan partners in providing immediate assistance.

Fall 2017

Escalating violence forces hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people from their homes in western Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh. CRS helps Caritas Bangladesh provide emergency relief.

“My cousin was killed because she was pregnant and couldn’t run fast enough. They poured gas on the house and set it on fire, but she wouldn’t leave without her son. I cry for her son because I delivered him. I named him. I still dream of him.”
—Shetara, a midwife and refugee at Moynarghona Camp, Bangladesh

December 2017

In Nigeria, where 97% of people are at risk for malaria, CRS leads a program funded by the Global Fund to distribute 16 million insecticide-treated bed nets to 30 million people, mostly women and children.

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