BY: KEN HACKETT and DAVE PIRAINO
Ken Hackett is president and Dave
Piraino is director of human resources, Catholic Relief Services, Baltimore.
For more than 60 years, Catholic Relief Services
(CRS) has provided emergency relief overseas. But the guiding principles
underlying the organization's work have evolved over time â€” particularly over
the last decade â€” as staff members have adopted a new view of their role in
supporting people in need worldwide.
In CRS' early years, its focus was on corporal works of mercy: providing
food, drink, clothing, and other material goods. Although the organization's
breadth of services and geographic presence expanded throughout the latter part
of the 20th century, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that the agency questioned
its foundational principles and made an organization-wide move toward
The impetus for change was the 1994 Rwandan genocide crisis. CRS staff
members were deeply affected: not only were their aid programs destroyed; they
also lost friends, colleagues, and family members. CRS staff realized that
unless they addressed the justice issues underlying their beneficiaries'
concerns, their aid would have minimal impact.
Changing the way the organization approaches relief has been an extensive
process. Staff members developed a strategic plan, held retreats and workshops
to define the concept of justice, educated colleagues worldwide on the new
approach, facilitated "Justice Reflections" to explore the basics of Catholic
social teaching, and developed guiding principles and a vision.
Despite challenges, CRS is successfully transforming itself into an agency
that not only provides physical relief but also strives to help build a culture
of justice, peace, and reconciliation.
In 1943, as war raged across Europe, thousands of bedraggled Polish refugees
fleeing Soviet forced labor camps streamed across the border of Iran. Most were
women and children, or very old men, their bodies emaciated, their feet swollen
and bleeding. Realizing they had reached sanctuary, many fell to their knees and
There to meet them were representatives of a newly formed agency, War Relief
Services, representing the mercy and goodwill of American Catholics. From these
beginnings, that charitable organization would become Catholic Relief Services
(CRS), the official relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic
Today, CRS is known for its response to the world's high-profile emergencies
and disasters, like the Indian Ocean tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, and
the ongoing conflict in Darfur.
But emergency relief is only a part of the agency's work. CRS also helps
communities develop the resources they need to sustain themselves. Our overseas
assistance efforts in 99 countries around the world involve programming that
helps farmers improve their yields; provides assistance to vulnerable people
such as women, children, and orphans; assists poor people in accessing credit;
improves community health and nutrition; and increases opportunities for
Underlying this work is a commitment to the U.S. Catholic bishops' call for
global solidarity. CRS sees itself as an agency that promotes global solidarity,
justice, and human dignity through programs of relief and development. But this
has not always been how CRS saw itself.
This is the a story of a relief agency that experienced tremendous growth,
struggled with its identity, and went through a transformation fostered by
rediscovering a source of its Catholic tradition.
From its beginning, CRS has always
understood itself as a Catholic agency. But for much of our history, our
identity and mission was as an agency that performed the
corporal works of
mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked,
and so forth. We first did this in the context of war relief: resettling
refugees, ministering to orphans, and providing other assistance.
A confluence of events in the mid-1950s helped the agency to expand: the end
of colonial rule in Asia and Africa, the beginnings of the Cold War, and the
granting of U.S. government funds to CRS as a result of the Truman Doctrine. The
agency's name was officially changed to Catholic Relief Services in 1955, and
the next 10 years saw it open 25 country programs in Africa, Asia, Latin
America, and the Middle East. Our programming focused on the provision of basic
relief, including simple distributions of food, clothing, and medicines.
As we grew, our programming focus widened, adapting to meet the needs of the
post-World War II Catholic Church and the circumstances of the people we
encountered. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was an evolution toward
socio-economic development and more efficient emergency response. Although this
evolution was for CRS a positive step, it was largely secular in nature and
driven by increased funding from the government.
Events in the late 1980s and early 1990s fundamentally changed the world in
which we worked. Those years brought two new factors. The first was the end of
the Cold War, which led to volatile political and social climates in many
developing and Third World countries. Throughout Africa and parts of Europe,
Asia, and Latin America, governments were weakened â€” and sometimes destroyed
â€” by ethnic conflict coupled with famine, drought, and other natural
At the same time, many CRS staff members began to reflect seriously on the
strengths and weaknesses of the agency's approach to development. This was the
second factor. There was a growing recognition that CRS had slowly drifted from
its moorings. On the one hand, we knew what we did when we handed out packets of
food in Europe and, later, in the developing world. But now we had expanded our
programming. There was an increasing sense that the agency's identity was being
obscured, and this caused our mission to come under question. That process of
introspection intensified under new leadership when Ken Hackett was named
executive director of CRS in 1993.
Then came an event that forever changed us as people and as an institution:
the Rwandan genocide.
By 1994, CRS had been working in Rwanda for three decades, since before that
nation won its independence. Our staff was aware of the ethnic tensions between
Hutus and Tutsis. But we had concluded that addressing these tensions was not a
part of our mandate as a relief and development agency. We simply tried to work
Then, in April 1994, the genocide began. More than 800,000 people were
murdered over three months. It deeply affected us. Our CRS staff lost friends,
colleagues, and family members. And we learned that all the good work we had
been doing â€” the silos and schools we built, the children we fed, the farms we
planted â€” was not enough. Our programs were wiped out within days and many of
the people we had served perished.
Partly because of the Rwandan genocide, CRS began to take a hard look at
itself. What we learned from the horror of Rwanda was that our work in relief
and development, though carried out effectively and efficiently, was not enough.
Our identity as "development professionals" came under serious question. We
realized that we had not addressed the justice issues relating to the structures
that perpetuated societal imbalances in Rwanda. We had failed to support
programs that fostered right relations among peoples, among institutions and
people, and inside the church.
The Adoption of the "Justice Lens"
After much reflection,
we resolved to address not just the symptoms of crises â€” burned-out houses,
homeless refugees, and food shortages â€” but also the systems and structures
that cause crises. We concluded that this was sound policy as well as a moral
imperative. Without true systemic change necessary to produce more peaceful or
tolerant surroundings, relief and development efforts could not succeed.
The events in Rwanda were a catalyst that impelled CRS through what can only
be described as an institutional transformation. As we went through this
process, we were guided by a jewel we rediscovered in our religious tradition:
Catholic social teaching.
Catholic social teaching provides the perfect framework for an organization
like ours. It calls people to solidarity, to balance relationships in society
and among themselves. It places the dignity of the human person at the center of
all we do. It upholds the principle of subsidiarity, which says that higher
levels of an organization like CRS should perform no function or duty that could
be better handled at a more local level, by people who know the cultural,
social, and political context better than CRS people do.
At the same time, the principles of Catholic social teaching speak universal
truths to people of other faiths. As an international agency, we faced the
challenge of regrounding ourselves in our Catholic identity while at the same
time maintaining and strengthening our community of staff and partners, who
represent religions and cultures from every corner of the globe. Catholic social
teaching promised to make that possible.
The operational changes demanded by these insights did not happen overnight
or easily. And, in fact, it is still a work very much in progress. There have
been a number of milestones along the way.
Beginning in late 1995, CRS embarked on a strategic planning process to guide
its choices and actions. People throughout the agency entered the process ready
to expand their understanding of our mission to include justice, peace, and
systemic change. This involved a good deal of debate, as would be the case any
time a successful organization considered making a change to what it had been
doing well for decades.
In 1996, as the result of a series of retreats and executive workshops, we
determined that the concept of justice, as defined in Catholic social
teaching, was a distinct strategy. From this came what we call our "Justice
Lens," a commitment to "build a culture of justice and peace through the
promotion of just and right relationships."
Having done that, we launched an agencywide education effort. Because CRS has
nearly 5,000 employees spread around the world, we could not simply assume that
each of them would understand, agree with, and want to implement the concept of
justice in the same way. Indeed, "justice" is a concept that can carry vastly
different meanings, depending on the community in which one sits.
Therefore, we undertook a participatory, reflective process that allowed
people to explore the concepts of Catholic social teaching from their own
perspectives and, having done that, begin to decide how to carry the Justice
Lens out in their work. Over about two years, every CRS office in every country
engaged in a facilitated "Justice Reflection" exploring the basics of Catholic
social teaching. These Justice Reflections helped us to better understand and
"own" the concepts of Catholic social teaching and the Justice Lens. Feedback
from the Justice Reflections led to development of the CRS Guiding
This process took on added momentum in 2000, when CRS convened a "world
summit." We brought together 250 CRS staff members and people from our partner
agencies around the world, asking them to bring along the ideas that had been
percolating at the agency's country and regional levels. Once they were
gathered, we asked these staffers and partners to develop their ideas into an
agency vision and directions for our future. Out of the "summit" came the CRS
Solidarity will transform the world to:
- Cherish and uphold the sacredness and dignity of every person
- Commit to and practice peace, justice, and reconciliation
- Celebrate and protect the integrity of all creation
In practical terms, implementing the Justice Lens meant reexaming everything
we did â€” our programs, our policies, how we related to the people we serve,
how we related to the U.S. Catholic community, how we related to one another as
fellow employees of CRS â€” and evaluating all this in terms of whether it
helped to build a culture of justice, peace, and reconciliation. In terms of
programming, we now evaluate not just whether our interventions are effective
and sustainable but whether they might have a negative impact on a community's
social or economic relationships. Assisting one group in a community, even if
its members are in dire need after a disaster or emergency, might alienate the
members of a group that did not receive assistance. We must ask what effect our
programs might have on relations between leaders and community members, men and
women, rich and poor, and Christian and Muslim. All of this enters into the
CRS's commitment to solidarity also led the agency to adopt "peace building"
as an agencywide priority. Peace building we see as the long-term project of
building peaceful, stable communities and societies. CRS assembled a team of
regional advisors and a headquarters-based technical staff to work with partners
to launch peace-building projects in dozens of countries. Each summer, CRS
conducts training programs for our staff and overseas partners at the Mindanao
Peace Institute in the Philippines and at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc
Institute for International Peace Studies. An increasing number of bishops from
developing countries have attended.
This commitment to solidarity also led us to realize that, as a Catholic
agency, we had not just an opportunity but an obligation to help U.S. Catholics
connect with the people we serve overseas. In other words, we recognized that we
serve a dual constituency: both poor and marginalized people overseas and
Catholics in the United States. In 2002, we established the U.S. Operations
Division, which seeks to raise the awareness of U.S. Catholics about the plight
of the people we serve around the world. At the same time, we provide
opportunities for Catholics to put their faith into action by participating in
advocacy, programs, and partnerships that address issues of international peace
and social justice.
We also realized that, as an organization, CRS had to practice what it
preached. This meant examining our management practice as well as our
programming overseas. We introduced a concept called the "Just Workplace," which
entails listening to our employees, allowing innovations, engaging various
levels of the organization in decision making, and keeping people throughout the
Impediments to Implementation
Any time an organization
makes a change, it will encounter challenges to that change. We encountered
three significant impediments: ownership, culture, and religious diversity.
Headquarters leads strategic planning in almost
any organization. The larger and more geographically diverse the agency, the
more difficult it is to use broad participation in developing that strategy. CRS
was no exception.
In developing our strategy, we made a tremendous effort to include people
from throughout the agency. However, because those who led the initiative were
based in CRS's headquarters, it was inevitable that at least some people â€”
especially among staff members in the countries we serve â€” that the Just
Workplace initiative, and to some extent the Justice Lens, were "headquarters
initiatives." As a result, there was a lack of "ownership" among some staff
CRS takes the need for participation and sense of ownership of these
strategies seriously. Having recognized this impediment, and because we are
genuinely committed to the Just Workplace concept, we continue to explore ways
to increase participation throughout the agency, give voice to the full gamut of
opinions, and incorporate feedback into all of our decisions.
The Identity Dilemma
CRS's staff is culturally and
religiously diverse. Indeed, we consider this diversity to be one of our
greatest assets. It makes CRS more effective, facilitates the acceptance of our
staff and programs in efforts to build capacity in other countries, and helps
ensure the practices of solidarity and subsidiarity.
Even so, our new emphasis on the agency's Catholic identity raised concerns
among some staff members and partners. They feared that our new approach might
hamper the implementation of our justice-focused strategies.
Many CRS staff members overseas live in communities in which religious
beliefs are expressed openly and are fundamental parts of daily life. We found
that other-than-Catholic staffers accepted and worked with the new approaches
once they were given an opportunity to discuss them, understand why the
fundamental tenets of Catholic faith called CRS to live by them, and relate
these principles to their own religious beliefs and experiences. They needed
time to overcome understandable concerns regarding whether CRS was moving to
evangelization and whether it was changing its fundamental mission. (They soon
saw that we were not.) Once we built trust about those concerns, we got past
Justice Reflections were critical in building that trust. In Buddhist
countries, for example, a CRS office might invite an expert to discuss the
similarities and differences between Catholic social teaching and Buddhist
thought. Staffers of other religious backgrounds had the opportunity to discuss
the similarities and differences between Catholic social teaching and their own
beliefs, and then to plan together how to implement the justice strategy in
their work. This was not a process of "relativizing" Catholic social teaching.
It was, however, a process of open and honest discussion.
Resistance to Change
Finally, one of the greatest
impediments we experienced was the natural human resistance to change. In 1996,
CRS already had a strong track record of "doing good." We were feeding people,
providing for their immediate needs and helping them to live longer and
healthier. Our staff felt good about that work, as it should have.
It's a natural tendency, under such circumstances, to not want to change
approaches. As a result, the agency had to become very good at making the case
for change. We had to spell out clearly, and in a compelling manner, why
addressing underlying structures and creating systemic change was so critical to
How the Agency Has Changed
It has now been a decade since
we launched the Justice Lens. How has the agency changed?
First, staff members throughout the world, whether Catholic or of other
faiths, have a grasp of the language and concept of justice as understood in
Catholic social teaching and are attempting to incorporate it into all aspects
of their work.
Second, the people we serve and the partners with whom we work are receiving
support not only to provide for immediate needs but also to create lasting
changes for peace, right relationships, and permanent solutions to local
Third, because of our focus on structural change and because of our greater
understanding of the principles of Catholic social teaching, the concept of
solidarity has taken hold in the agency in a whole new way.
Fourth, CRS has adopted a more participatory approach to making decisions,
and this new approach affects the lives of our staff members, our partners, and
the people we serve. We are striving for a new kind of ownership in our work.
During the visioning work that we did in 2000, we held participation sessions in
each of the agency's world offices. Janitors and drivers worked with senior
staff to provide input for our new vision and advice on how we could carry
forward the Justice Lens and create a Just Workplace in the coming years.
Fifth, justice is no longer simply a concept we advance as part of a
strategy. It has taken root. It has become a given in our approaches, in the way
we think about our work, and as a principle we will continue to build on in the
Sixth, and finally, managers and decision makers throughout the agency are
called to an open dedication to justice in the workplace. Staff members can rely
on that commitment and can call on the principles behind it. Each person who
works for or with us knows that, as an agency, we have made a commitment to try
to live out the principles of Catholic social teaching in the way we work and
the way we treat each other. While we still struggle to define what that means
on a day-to-day basis â€” and always will â€” that foundation provides a special
peace of mind.
Catholic Relief Services's Guiding Principles
Dignity and Equality of the Human Person
All of humanity
has been created in the image of God and possesses a basic dignity and equality
that come directly from our creation and not from any action on our own part.
Rights and Responsibilities
Every person has basic rights
and responsibilities that flow from our human dignity and that belong to us as
human beings, regardless of any social or political structures. The rights are
numerous and include those things that make life truly human. Corresponding to
our rights are duties and responsibilities to respect the rights of others and
to work for the common good of all.
Social Nature of Humanity
All of us are social by nature
and are called to live in community with others â€” our full human potential
isn't realized in solitude, but in community with others. How we organize our
families, societies, and communities directly affects human dignity and our
ability to achieve our full human potential.
The Common Good
In order for all of us to have an
opportunity to grow and develop fully, a certain social fabric must exist within
society. This is the common good. Numerous social conditions â€” economic,
political, material, and cultural â€” impact our ability to realize our human
dignity and reach our full potential.
A higher level of government â€” or
organization â€” should not perform any function or duty that can be handled
more effectively at a lower level by people who are closer to the problem and
have a better understanding of the issue.
We are all part of one human family â€”
whatever our national, racial, religious, economic, or ideological differences
â€” and in an increasingly interconnected world, loving our neighbor has global
Option for the Poor
In every economic, political, and
social decision, a weighted concern must be given to the needs of the poorest
and most vulnerable. When we do this we strengthen the entire community, because
the powerlessness of any member wounds the rest of society.
There is inherent integrity to all of
creation and it requires careful stewardship of all our resources, ensuring that
we use and distribute them justly and equitably â€” as well as planning for
Copyright Â© 2006 by the Catholic Health
Association of the United States
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