Caritas Internationalis History

Address:
Palazzo San Calisto
00120
Vatican City

Telephone: 39 06 698 797 99
Fax: 39 06 698 87 237

Website:
Not for Profit Organization
Incorporated: 1928 as Caritas Catholica
NAIC: 624230 Emergency and Other Relief Services

Company Perspectives:

Guiding Values: The guiding values and principles provide the moral and strategic basis for all the work of the Caritas Confederation. Dignity of the human person: The dignity of the human person is our foundational moral value. We reject the reification of the poor and seek to make them not objects of our pity but subjects of their own development and agents of change. In this way, Caritas makes God's love for creation manifest in the world. Option for the poor: The Caritas Confederation commits itself to combating dehumanising poverty, which robs people of their dignity and humanity, and to promoting the rights of the poor. We commit ourselves to restoring their sense of co-responsibility in building a better world. We also need to underline the position of women, recognising that they have to be given their rightful place in Caritas structures. Universal destination of the Earth's goods: Any economic, social, political or cultural structure which opposes or oppresses and prevents change towards justice is sinful. We seek to encourage our membership to redress the balance by working to transform these structures into graced social structures which favour the poor. Solidarity: The Caritas Confederation seeks to inculcate in its membership and its dealings with other non-governmental organisations and global institutions a genuine sense of solidarity, not as a feeling of sympathy but of empathy, of putting oneself in the shoes of the poor and seeing the world from their perspective. Stewardship: The Caritas Confederation commits itself to being in solidarity not only with people but with the whole of creation and therefore seeks to act in an environmentally sustainable way at all times.

Key Dates:

1895:
The Charitas Comité, a Catholic aid and relief organization, is formed under the leadership of priest Lorenz Werthmann in Freiburg, Germany.
1916:
Charitas is recognized as the single official umbrella organization for the German Catholic church's relief operations.
1924:
The first international Catholic charities conference is held in Lucerne, Switzerland.
1947:
The organization, now known as Caritas Catholica, is endorsed by the Vatican as its official relief representative and relief and development aid organization in contact with the United Nations.
1951:
The structure for the new centralized international Catholic relief and aid organization is established and the first general assembly is held.
1957:
The name Caritas Internationalis is adopted.
1965:
Vatican II is released, calling for Catholic aid efforts led by Caritas Internationalis to adopt a new and broader global focus, regardless of religion or other affiliation.
1991:
In response to Pope John Paul II's call for "Globalizing Solidarity," Caritas Internationalis begins to extend its efforts beyond the provision of relief aid to emerge as a provider of development programs and as a major advocacy group in the political arena.
2002:
Caritas Internationalis launches an effort to reduce corruption among humanitarian assistance operations.

Company History:

Caritas Internationalis is the central coordinating hub for a confederation of more than 160 relief, humanitarian, and social aid organizations, linked through the Catholic Church and operating throughout the world. Caritas and its members reach more than 150 countries, focusing especially on underdeveloped and disaster-stricken regions. In addition to its members' direct relief and development work, Caritas Internationalis is an active advocacy group, promoting the Vatican's concept of Globalizing Solidarity. As such, Caritas Internationalis supports and coordinates local, national, regional, and international lobbying programs and campaigns to back its selected platform of issues. Based in Vatican City, Caritas Internationalis is structured along parliamentary lines: the General Assembly consists of representatives from each of Caritas's member organizations; the Executive Committee, composed of a president and treasurer, is elected by the General Assembly, in turn supported by the Bureau, composed of the president, treasurer, and a number of vice-presidents. Last, the General Secretariat includes the Secretary General and administrative staff and personnel. Since 2003, the General Assembly also has formed a number of working groups and task forces, which target specific topics and issues under consideration by the full confederation. The member organizations of Caritas Internationalis are further structured into seven regional groups, representing Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania.

German Origins at the Turn of the 20th Century

Catholic aid and relief activities remained uncoordinated in large part and locally focused into the late 19th century in Germany. Movement toward a more centralized organization began among socially active priests and politicians toward the dawn of the 20th century. By the early 1890s, that movement had found its leader, in the form of Lorenz Werthmann, a young priest in the town of Freiburg. Werthmann gathered a number of like-minded church members, forming the Charitas Comité in 1895. By 1897, Charitas, as the new organization became known, launched its official operations.

Charitas initially focused on providing charity and other relief and social aid services to Germany's poor, primarily targeting the nation's Christian population. From the outset, Charitas exhibited a strong degree of social advocacy, tackling societal problems such as welfare services, alcoholism, protection of the mentally and physically handicapped, as well as of migrant workers, women's health, and the like.

Less than three years after its founding, Charitas boasted more than 1,500 members. Yet the organization remained relatively informal in structure, financial planning, and operational organization as well. At the same time, Charitas did not enjoy the official sanction of the German Catholic Church. The outbreak of World War I and the resulting pressure on the organization's emergency relief capacity exposed the need for a more formalized operating structure. In 1916, Charitas was recognized as the single official umbrella organization for the German Catholic Church's relief operations.

Over the next decade, Charitas's operations were extended to provide complete coverage of Germany. By 1922, the organization was present in all of the country's dioceses. Charitas also created its own educational network, providing training in various social fields, as well as specific advanced training programs such as nursing, child and youth welfare services, and others. By the time of Werthmann's death that year, Deutsche Caritasverbandes (DCV), the new name of the organization, had developed solid foundations as one of Germany's most important social aid institutions. Growth continued through the decade, and before the end of the 1920s, DCV counted more than 10,000 programs in place throughout Germany.

The DCV in Germany had inspired the creation of similar organizations in other countries. One of the first of the new generation of Catholic relief organizations was created in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1901. The United States followed soon after with the establishment of the Catholic Charities in 1910. The Netherlands added the Roman Katholieke Huisvestingscomité in 1914, which later evolved into Mensen in Nood.

In 1924, a first attempt at international coordination of the various Catholic relief societies resulted in the first Catholic charities conference. The conference, held in Lucerne, attracted some 60 delegates from 22 countries in its first year. By 1928, the conference had evolved into Caritas Catholica, which held meetings every two years.

International Mandate in the Postwar Years

World War II cut short the activities of Caritas Catholica, although most of the relief organizations that composed its membership were able to continue operations. The war years also saw the creation of a number of new national organizations, such as the Secretariado Nacional de Caridad, created in Spain in 1942, and Catholic Relief Services, formed in the United States in 1943. The immediate postwar period saw the emergence of a number of new nationally sanctioned relief organizations, such as the Secours Catholique, formed in France in 1946, and Secours Internationale de Caritas Catholica, formed in Belgium in 1948.

Caritas Catholica had to wait until 1947 until the Vatican gave its approval for the reformation of the organization. Caritas organized two conferences in Lucerne that year, to coordinate the massive relief effort needed in the face of the war's devastation. In order to formalize the conference's task of overseeing a now-global relief effort, the Vatican endowed Caritas with its endorsement as its official relief representative in its international capacity. This meant also that Caritas became the Vatican's official relief and development aid organization in contact with the United Nations.

In 1950, the Vatican sponsored a study week under the guidance of Vatican Secretariat of State Msgr Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, to discuss the concerns of coordinating international relief and aid services among Catholic organizations. Once again, the meeting was attended by delegates from 22 countries. The result of the meeting was the decision to establish a central internationally focused organization for the Church's relief efforts.

By the end of 1951, the structure for the new organization was in place, and in December 1951, the new Caritas held its first general assembly. The founding members of Caritas included Germany, Austria, Belgium, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, and Portugal.

The creation of a single, centralized coordinating organization launched the start of Caritas's global expansion. Over the next decade, new Caritas member operations were either established or added throughout the world--by the beginning of the 21st century, the conference boasted operations in more than 200 countries and territories throughout the world. To underscore its extensive geographic reach, Caritas adopted the new name of Caritas Internationalis in 1957.

Global Advocate in the New Century

A turning point in Caritas's history came in the early 1960s, with the release in 1965 of Vatican II. In addition to sweeping reforms within the Catholic Church itself, Vatican II also called for Catholic aid efforts--led by Caritas Internationalis--to adopt a new and broader global focus. As a result, Caritas's relief operations no longer targeted especially the world's Catholic and Christian populations, but instead sought to extend its efforts toward the world's poor and needy, regardless of religion or other affiliation.

Vatican II signaled the creation of a new round of Caritas members, as Catholic relief services extended into new areas of the world. An example of this new expansion came in Pakistan, at the signing of Vatican II in 1965, with a first donation from the Vatican toward the establishment of a wing of Caritas in that country. Caritas Pakistan opened its doors in Lahore in 1966 under the leadership of Rev. Marcel Roger.

In other parts of the world, Vatican II inspired existing Catholic aid organizations to expand their range of operations beyond their domestic borders. Such was the case in Australia, which saw the creation of the Catholic Overseas Relief Committee in 1964. Similarly in 1966, Bishop Delargy of New Zealand was placed in charge of forming that country's National Commission on Missions and Overseas Aid. This in turn led to the creation of NZ Catholic Overseas Aid in 1969, which in 1998 changed its name to Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand. By then, too, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales had established the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, or CAFOD.

An important step toward the development of Caritas Internationalis's later structure was the creation of Caritas Europe. That organization grouped together the operations of some 48 European members in 44 European countries. The creation of regional organizations, such as Caritas Europe, permitted Caritas Internationalis to respond still more efficiently to issues surrounding local and regional populations. By the end of the century, Caritas Internationalis oversaw the functioning of seven regional organizations.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Caritas Internationalis had become a central player in international relief and development efforts. Caritas also had extended its range of interests beyond the mere provision of relief aid. The organization had become a major provider of development programs. At the same time, Caritas Internationalis put its scope and scale into play, responding to Pope John Paul II's call, in 1991, for what was termed as "Globalizing Solidarity." Since then, Caritas International has emerged as a major advocacy group, applying pressure to affect local, national, and international politics.

In 2002, Caritas Internationalis launched an effort to reduce the level of corruption among humanitarian assistance operations--including its own--estimated to result in the loss of as much as 30 percent of public aid expenses. At the end of 2002, Caritas organized a conference toward the drafting of international guidelines countering corruption among its member operations.

In 2003, Caritas's advocacy interests led it to create a series of working groups and task forces focused on specific issues facing the organization's global operations. In this way, Caritas began to put into place a centrally coordinated lobbying position as well. Caritas Internationalis had evolved from a single organization to a globally operating association representing more than 162 Catholic relief, development, and social aid services throughout the world.

Principal Subsidiaries: CAFOD (United Kingdom); Caritas Aotearoa (New Zealand); Caritas Australia; Caritas Austria; Caritas Belgium; Caritas Ecuador; Caritas Germany; Caritas Italy; Caritas Mauritania; Caritas Norway; Caritas Switzerland; Caritas Turkey; Catholic Relief Services (United States); Mensen in Nood (Netherlands); Secours Catholique (France); Trocaire (Ireland).

Further Reading:

  • "Caritas," Catholic Insight, June 2004, p. 29.
  • "Caritas Examines Curbs on Corruption in Humanitarian Aid," America, December 16, 2002.
  • "Caritas, U.N. AIDS Program Sign Cooperation Agreement," America, June 23, 2003, p. 5.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.