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CRS and CCHD: Branches of Catholic Social Teaching

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“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,” declared the prophet Isaiah approximately 2,300 years ago. “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isaiah 61).

Some 300 years later, Jesus echoed those words: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18).

In 1891, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor”) denouncing the work days of 12-15 hours, low wages, the separation of families, child labor, sexual harassment, bad housing, and dangerous working conditions.

And in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the negative impact of the global economic crisis, including mass hunger, poverty, unemployment and the widening gap between rich and poor, in Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”).

It is from these roots of Scripture and Tradition, and the tree trunk of Papal Encyclicals, that Catholic Social Teaching grows. Its branches --- the Church’s principal Social Teachings --- are Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable; Solidarity; Call to Family, Community, and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities; Life and Dignity of the Human Person; Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers; and Care for God’s Creation.  

Rooted in Scripture, Tradition, and a litany of Papal Encyclicals and Church Documents spanning thousands of years, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) are the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching in action.

To the above principles, CRS adds “Subsidiarity” which, like the others, is shared across religious and cultural boundaries, and articulates values that are common among people who seek to promote and work towards true justice and lasting peace. 

CRS describes Subsidiarity thusly: “A higher level of government — or organization — 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.” For CRS that means working with its local partners who are on the front lines. 

Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Community, was founded in 1943 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Today, CRS reaches more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries on five continents, and incorporates justice and integral human development in all of its programs.

CRS administers such programs as Operation Rice Bowl to engage U.S. Catholics to live their faith and be in solidarity with all who suffer from hunger and injustice. Catholic Relief Service also invites U.S. Catholics to practice global justice by purchasing Fair Trade products and advocating for international policies which recognize the need to care for the poor and promote just relationships with the community of nations.

These are supported by the generosity of parishioners in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. As of August 8, we have raised $260,700 for Japan; $1,457,300 for Haiti; $231,700 for the Catholic Relief Services Annual Collection; $45,143 for Operation Rice Bowl; and $217,400 for Latin America. Currently, donations are being collected for East Africa due to the extreme drought conditions (see www.crs.org).

CCHD was instituted in 1969 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in response to the negative side effects of poverty in the United States. CCHD's mission is to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled self-help organizations and through transformative social, education, and solidarity between poor and non-poor.

Funds are raised annually through a collection the Sunday before Thanksgiving (this year, Nov. 19-20) at every parish in the country. Funds are then redistributed through a rigorous application process to poor and low-income groups who are on the front lines, combating the structural roots of poverty and injustice in America.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Catholic parishes raise almost $400,000 through the annual CCHD collection. The funds are collected for national and local grants to support organizations that are addressing the root causes of poverty through systemic change and economic development. Funded organizations work on social concerns and public policy issues such as education, healthcare, affordable housing, foreclosures, living-wage, job training, public safety and the environment.  

Each year, CCHD awards monetary grants to local agencies that serve the goals of Catholic Social teaching. This year’s National Grant recipients are Housing Long Beach and Ventura County CLUE, while Local Grant recipients are the Institute for Urban Research & Development, their Alliance MacArthur Park-Mama’s Hot Tamales project, and Center for the Working Poor. Their work is carried out through public policy advocacy efforts, organizing and leadership development. 

As followers of Christ, we are continuously invited to share in Jesus’ mission of walking with and living amongst the poor. Although generous financial contributions are much appreciated, educating and advocating for justice is just as important. As prophetically stated by Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador: “The Church’s mission is to identify itself with the poor; therein it will find its salvation.”

José L. Gutierrez is former CCHD intern for the Office of Justice and Peace. For more information, about CCHD and CRS, call the Office of Justice and Peace (213) 637-7560.

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