Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities

This CHA resource, developed in 2015, offers Catholic health ministry leaders and others who participate in international projects six Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities.

These principles bring to life the richness of Catholic social teaching and tradition. Based loosely on the “Oath for Compassionate Service” in the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, and insights from a special workgroup CHA convened to examine current international health program practice in light of our ministry’s commitments, they are offered to help Catholic health care most appropriately conduct international programs.

Order a copy(s) of the Guiding Principles Today

Download a PDF of the booklet

Watch a 30-minute Highlight Webinar!

Bruce Compton, CHA’s senior director of Global Health, presents the Guiding Principles in a 30-minute webinar format.
Watch the recording now!

Share with your Board, Executive Team and Associates

So that you can easily facilitate an educational session with executive teams, boards or associates, CHA has developed two facilitation processes.

A 10-15 minute process for boards and executive teams
A longer session that is perfect for those who participate in international outreach programs and activities

A Modern Day Parable

An Adaptation of Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:3–20, Luke 8:4–15, The Parable of the Sowing
By Michael Rozier, SJ


A Reflection Guide for International Health Activities

This booklet is a resource for persons selected as volunteers for mission trips to low- and middle-income countries to help them reflect on the overall experience. Designed for individual or group use, its contents lead users through discerning participation, preparation for a trip, arrival, the days of the experience, leaving, re-entering normal life and remembering and remaining rooted in the experience. Each of its six sections includes questions for reflection, spiritual exercises, sources for additional information and inspirational quotes and poems. It also includes plenty of journaling.

Order a copy(s) of the Reflection Guide today

Download a PDF of the Booklet


Don’t just do it
Good judgment requires controlling our enthusiasm to do good so that we also do it well, even in times of emergency. Technical expertise is necessary but not sufficient for action. International activity requires many things, including assessment, planning and evaluation.


Know thyself, know thy partner 
There are many motivations for U.S. and international organizations to engage in international health activities. An invitation from a true partner who is part of the local community and its health system, knowledge and understanding of our respective motives and full transparency regarding our goals are all necessary if we are to do our best work.


Trust is earned and learned
Meaningful partnership requires a high level of trust and multiple lines of communication. Both U.S. and international partners must recognize that the other likely perceives risks in being totally honest. Both must listen for things said and unsaid, which takes both time and practice.


Build capacity, not dependency
We should neither conduct activities that a local community can do for itself nor participate in one-way financial giving. The process of getting to know your partner — in order to build capacity — often takes longer than expected and requires patience.


Best intentions do not equal best practices
Something is not always better than nothing. Low-resource settings do not permit lower standards. The high standards we follow in the U.S. — in delivering health care and developing partnerships — should not be set aside when working abroad. The laws of the country must be followed, the men and women providing services must be competent in their roles, and outcomes must be measured by quality, not simply quantity.


We all have something to learn
Partnerships marked by mutuality and respect build relationships where both the U.S. and international partners benefit and take away relevant lessons. True cultural competence is necessary for a two-way learning process in any development activity.


Compelled to continue Jesus’ mission of love and healing today, U.S.-based Catholic health care organizations are reaching out to our brothers and sisters around the world to improve their health status and quality of life. This tradition of international ministry is a testament to the commitment of associates from across Catholic health ministry to live up to the Gospel mandate to provide compassionate care, with special attention to those most in need.

International projects, like those in the States, call for careful consideration. Through technological advances, increasing travel infrastructure and even social media, we are making more global connections. These tools may make it appear as though it could take no more than passports and plane tickets to provide medical services, deliver surplus equipment or provide financial support to communities halfway around the world, but we know better. Ours is a ministry with deep roots in assessment and evaluation as important components of responding to identified needs.

These principles were developed by gathering wisdom from many sources, including Catholic social tradition, and are offered to open up conversations around why and how we conduct international projects.

Guiding Principles for Conducting International Health Activities includes four sections: 

  1. The Guiding Principles
  2. A Modern Day Parable – this parable will help individuals and groups consider the opportunities and challenges of international projects
  3. Questions to Consider – this section provides questions organizations should ask regarding each of the principles 
  4. A Conclusion

Order a copy(s) of the Guiding Principles Today

Download a PDF of the booklet