CRS in the 1960s

A sister who glowed with the light of Christ among the destitute of Calcutta. A daring airlift to feed starving children in Biafra. In the darkness, God always lights our way.


Mother Teresa

"Christ was in her face—in her shining eyes, in the lines of patience and laughter around her mouth, in an ineffable glow of love which surrounded her."

Catholic Relief Services has been working in India since 1946, but we began our long relationship with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in the 1960s. At the time, Monsignor Alfred Schneider was the director of CRS programs in India.

Monsignor Schneider had heard about the work of a remarkable sister who cared for poor people living on the streets of Calcutta. He eventually discovered that this tireless woman was receiving food for her Home for the Dying through CRS. Monsignor Schneider vowed he would meet her someday.

One afternoon while he was visiting schools in some of the poorest corners of the city, Monsignor Schneider's wish came true. In his memoir, My Brother's Keeper, he recalls his first meeting with Mother Teresa:

Near the end of the tour, I noticed a nun among the children, chatting cheerfully with them about their lessons as they clustered eagerly around her. I went over to find out who she was, and when she looked at me, I knew. This had to be Mother Teresa.

Christ was in her face—in her shining eyes, in the lines of patience and laughter around her mouth, in an ineffable glow of love which surrounded her. She greeted me with characteristic simplicity, and we talked about the dozens of…schools she had established…in the slums. And she invited me to visit the Home for the Dying.


Biafra

"A daring, dangerous and global religious operation, defying international codes to feed the hungry."

A 1967 civil war between the federal forces of Nigeria and the secessionist leaders of Biafra set the scene for a daring mission of mercy that airlifted food for millions of starving people.

The world was shocked when it learned of the horrendous suffering caused by a blockade of all aid in the former eastern region of Nigeria, now called Biafra.

As stories and photographs of starving children finally appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world, compassionate people responded with generous donations. Catholic Relief Services was one of the main agencies that made up an interfaith coalition—including Protestant and Jewish organizations—that broke the blockade by flying to a secret airstrip.

CRS chartered weekly flights from the United States to São Tomé to send food and medicines that kept children alive at more than 1,000 feeding stations.

In his memoir The Biafra Story: The Making of an African Legend, British writer Frederick Forsyth, who covered the crisis in Biafra as a young reporter, recalls the efforts made by CRS to provide care. "Constantly agitating, pushing, yelling, shoving, the chiefs of those organizations bullied the State Department to keep the relief operation going to the children on both sides. These men included Bishop [Edward] Swanstrom and Ed Kinney of CRS…."

When the airlift halted with the fall of Biafra in 1970, the Associated Press religion writer called it "a daring, dangerous and global religious operation, defying international codes to feed the hungry."

This mission of compassion came at great cost, but also saved lives, he said.

"At least 25 fliers, volunteer recruits to the venture, lost their lives in the border-jumping nighttime airlift. Eight planes were lost, shot down, bombed or crash-landed," he wrote. "But more than 50,000 tons of food were delivered, keeping millions alive."

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