Origins of Caritas Australia

Some of you may not be familiar with my Charity Partner Caritas Australiathe Catholic Church’s aid and development agency.  I chose to partner with Caritas not just because of my Catholic beliefs but because they have a rich history of listening respectfully to the suffering of the poor and giving them the tools to transform their own lives. As probably know by now, sustainable development (development that is led and owned by the communities) is something that I am extremely passionate about and something I think Caritas does really well.

The origins of Caritas

A young Lorenz Werthmann

The history of Caritas dates back to 1897 when a young priest by the name of Lorenz Werthmann founded the Charitas Association for Catholic Germany in Cologne, Germany. The association offered help to many people in need: seasonal workers, sailors, vagabonds, alcoholics, people with physical and mental disabilities and people with sexually transmitted diseases. It also provided childcare, corrective training for youths, protection for girls, nursing for the ill and women’s services.

Other national Caritas organisations were soon formed in Switzerland (1901) and the United States (1910). Named after a Latin word meaning love and compassion, Cartias grew to become one of the largest aid and development agencies in the world.

In the 20th Century, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, laid the foundations for an international network and in 1954, Caritas Internationalis  was officially recognised bringing together Caritas organisations in 13 countries. Today Caritas Internationalis has 165 members that work in over 200 countries and territories. Collectively and individually their mission is to work to build a better world, especially for the poor and oppressed

Caritas Australia

Caritas began in Australia in 1964 as the Catholic Overseas Relief Committee (CORC). It’s initial focus was to distribute funds the Catholic Church had received for overseas relief from the United Nation’s ‘Freedom from Hunger’ campaign.

In 1966, CORC became known as the Australian Catholic Relief (ACR). As the agency developed, it began to see that responding to emergency situations was only a small part of the response to poverty. It began to focus more on human development and programs which built community self-reliance. In doing this, it gave its partners the space and encouragement to make their own decisions, giving support and developing an international exchange of ideas, rather than dictating terms.

$25 could provide a family of five in Vietnam with enough seed to grow corn for a year
$25 could provide a family of five in Vietnam with enough seed to grow corn for a year

Within Australia, ACR saw that it had a responsibility to support development in marginalised communities. However decision-makers soon realised that donating money was only a small percentage of any positive change. To make bigger and more positive changes, they had to increase Australians’ awareness and knowledge of the problems occurring in the developing world.

$150 could support the installation of alternative safe water options for communities
$150 could support the installation of alternative safe water options for communities

Significant resources were put into programs within the Catholic school system, parishes and the general community to draw attention to global poverty, inequality, injustice and the Christian responsibility to take action.

On 1 July 1996, the ACR underwent a name change and became known as Caritas Australia.

Today, Caritas Australia works in over 30 countries around the world with an emphasis on long-term development and self-sustainability in vulnerable communities.

Project Compassion

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The first Project Compassion box, 1966

Project Compassion is Cartias Australia’s annual fundraising and awareness raising appeal. The first Lenten appeals for overseas relief were held in the Archdioceses of Adelaide and Sydney, and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in 1964. The organisers of these appeals encouraged the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) to initiate a national Lenten appeal which soon became known as Project Compassion.


To find out more about Caritas Australia, have a look at the Fact Sheet on our website and/or visit their website

Pledge text only

If you would like to support the great work that Caritas Australia does then why not take the pledge to donate 1% of your annual income through monthly donations and help them continue to support long-term development around the world.


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