Catholic Relief Services has always been changing during my many years here, never standing still. Often this is because we are working to see how we can better carry out our mission, how we can better serve the poor of the world, and how we can better serve you as you fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ by being in solidarity with them.
Sometimes these changes are thrust on us from the outside. Few were more profound than the one that came in 2003 with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Popularly known as PEPFAR, it provided billions of dollars to battle the pandemic of HIV and AIDS that was then sweeping through the poorer countries of the world with little in its path.
While promoting good health has always been a big part of what we do at CRS, we had never done anything on this scale, of this complexity. As a result of PEPFAR, we developed a consortium, in conjunction with our partners, called AIDSRelief. For the first time, we began to do more than just help hundreds of thousands of people live with the virus and offer palliative care to those who, all too often, die from it.
Now we were able to treat them, many with antiretroviral medicines that bring them back from the brink of death—treatment that had been too expensive before. Such work is now a big part of our annual budget.
As with everything we do, we look at this work through the lens of our faith. And that faith tells us that we are all part of one human family. From our largest donor to our poorest beneficiary, we are all God’s children. We are all brothers and sisters. If it were a member of your family who was infected, would you hand them a pill and walk away? No, you would make sure that they took the pill, that day and every day, and that their other needs were met. That’s the holistic approach CRS takes, empowering communities to care for their own, to look after their family, our family.
We go even further because we know that HIV does not affect just those who have the virus. Much of our work is with children who have become orphans or are vulnerable as a result of HIV and AIDS. Some of them do have the virus, very often from birth. They don’t just face health issues, they also have to deal with stigmatization and other problems. We help them face these challenges, preparing them for what now, with antiretroviral treatment, can be very long and productive lives.
And the virus also impacts many children who are not infected. Some are orphaned at a very young age. Others are teenagers who find themselves the heads of households after their parents have died, taking care of brothers, sisters and often cousins, years before they should have such responsibility. Still others are forced to miss school to care for ailing parents. Their needs are of all sorts, from food to school fees to psychological support.
CRS is a leader in helping orphans and vulnerable children, and that’s no surprise. Because the whole point of such work is to recognize that while HIV and AIDS might infect individuals, the disease affects entire families. And family is so important to CRS. We know that following the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must strive to care for the entire human family.
This is the time of year when many of us gather together as families, for Thanksgiving, for Christmas. A number of our CRS staff working in far-flung locales will return home during these months to be with their family. We are grateful that you are part of the CRS family, that you allow us to serve you by helping your brothers and sisters among the poor around the world.
Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.
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