CRS in the 1970s

Where there is suffering there is also hope—in a new nation and in a new Lenten tradition that brings the fruits of our sacrifice to the aid of the poor.


Help for a New Bangladesh

"We provided food, medicines, clothing, everything you could think of."

In 1971, nearly 10 million East Pakistanis fled into India's West Bengal province to avoid the war that would result in independence for Bangladesh. The border city of Calcutta became a city of refuge, with 250,000 men, women and children encamped at its gates.

Many found shelter in huge sewer pipes, and suffering continued in the large camps at the border and farther inland. Catholics in the United States responded with love and compassion as news of the tragedy unfolded.

Francis X. Carlin was the Catholic Relief Services director in Calcutta at the time, working alongside many partners, including Caritas and Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.

"We helped set up camps with about a quarter of a million people in each one," he later recalled. "We provided food, medicines, clothing, everything you could think of. Caritas of India brought doctors, nurses, religious sisters and lay volunteers from the length and breadth of India."

During the crisis, CRS sent more than 85,600 tons of food and supplies for 2 million refugees along the Indian border. CRS also worked with the U.S.-based Food for Peace Program to bake and distribute 140,000 loaves of bread daily.

As the 10 million refugees began to return home to what was now called Bangladesh, CRS shifted its focus to rebuilding. Some 15 tons of material were shipped to Bangladesh to construct shelters before the monsoon season began.


The Birth of CRS Rice Bowl

On Wednesdays, families prepared the meal and prayed. Then, at church services and in synagogues, they placed the savings from the meal in a bowl and designated them, not as a collection, but as a sacrificial offering.

In 1975, drought in the Sahel region of Africa prompted an outpouring of concern among Americans. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, a rabbi, three ministers from the Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Lutheran faiths, and Monsignor Robert Coll organized an ecumenical response for people suffering from the drought.

Each Tuesday during that Lenten season, the local paper published a recipe for a simple meal, accompanied by an ecumenical prayer. On Wednesdays, families prepared the meal and prayed. Then, at church services and in synagogues, they placed the savings from the meals in a bowl and designated them, not as a collection, but as a sacrificial offering. The Diocese of Allentown donated $100,000 to Catholic Relief Services that year in what became the first CRS Rice Bowl offering.

Since then, CRS Rice Bowl has grown to become a Lenten tradition in 13,000 parishes and schools across the United States. Thanks to that faith and generosity, CRS can serve more than 100 million of the world's poorest people in 91 countries. Learn more about CRS Rice Bowl today.

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