Guest Columnists

One Way the Church Makes a Difference For Millions

By Father Charles P. Keeney

Some people wonder why, as Director of the Propagation of the Faith, I would also be interested in promoting Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Some have seen these two arms of the church as competing organizations. I see them as complementary! Both are important missionary organizations.

The Propagation of the Faith labors in spiritual works such as the building of churches, educating catechists, and training seminarians. CRS is the humanitarian arm of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), which helps feed people, bring them clean water, and provide medicine and disaster supplies. CRS is often called the biggest secret of the United States Catholic Church. Last year the annual budget for CRS was nearly a billion dollars, which helped over 159 million people in over 120 different countries. 

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with one of Brooklyn’s own auxiliary bishops to discuss CRS. Bishop Octavio Cisneros has been appointed to the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services. He sees himself as a natural candidate to sit on the CRS Board for three reasons.

The first is that he has extensive experience in his travels to Latin America — he has visited every country in Latin America except Bolivia. As a member of the board, he will be called upon to visit some of the projects of CRS in places with which he is already familiar.

The second is that he has already served on the Latin American Committee for the USCCB as well as the Overseas Committee for CRS. Through these connections, he knows many of the bishops seeking CRS support in the Americas and elsewhere. Foreign bishops will find Bishop Cisneros to be a comfortable liaison.

The final reason is a very personal one. Before it was changed to its present name, CRS was called the Catholic Welfare Bureau. Bishop Cisneros recalled that in 1961 and 1962, the Bureau helped over 14,000 child refugees from Cuba escape the communist regime and establish themselves in our country. With the help of our church, many of those refugees made exceptional progress and lived very productive and successful lives. One of those young children grew up to be Bishop Octavio Cisneros. He has experienced firsthand the benefits of the effectiveness of CRS’s outreach.

In our discussion, Bishop Cisneros described Cúcuta, a city on Columbia and Venezuela’s border, that he visited in 2019. Refugees came across a small bridge from Venezuela, some just to get food and return home. Others traveled to flee from the effects of Socialism in their homeland, looking for new opportunities to improve their lives. Unfortunately, some were so tired that when they arrived in Cúcuta they simply remained there. CRS continues to provide food, medicine, and education to many displaced Venezuelans.

This is one of the thousands of examples of the kind of difference the American Catholic Church makes in the lives of so many people around the world through CRS. This is the kind of good news our good people need to hear!

How to participate in CRS Rice Bowl

  • Donate to the annual collection taken in every parish Sunday, March 14
  • Call 800-222-0025
  •  Email Ms. Carlie Dua at

Father Keeney is the diocesan director for the Propagation of the Faith.