Founded in 1964
• Initial focus on responding to disasters in majority world, funded through Project Compassion
• Development focus with emphasis on long term development and education in Australia
• Became Caritas Australia in 1995
Caritas Australia had its beginnings in the early 1960s, when awareness of global human needs was growing rapidly as international channels of communication continued to improve and as nations under colonial control were struggling for independence.
Caritas Australia was born in June 1964 as the Catholic Overseas Relief Committee. It formed to distribute funds the Catholic Church had received for overseas relief from the United Nation’s “Freedom from Hunger” campaign.
Three months previous, the first Lenten appeals for overseas relief were held in the Archdioceses of Adelaide and Sydney, and the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.
The organisers of these appeals encouraged the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to initiate a national Lenten appeal in 1965. This Lenten appeal became known as Project Compassion and, in 1966, the agency which co-ordinated it, became Australian Catholic Relief. Australian Catholic Relief grew as the pace of global social change increased and as the Catholic Church adjusted to the dramatic changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
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.
Within Australia, the agency saw that it had a responsibility to support development in communities within the majority world (formerly called the ‘developing’ world).
The role of development education – of challenging the attitudes of Australians – became increasingly important, as the agency saw that money could only be a small part of any positive change. Significant resources were put into programs in Catholic schools, parishes and the general community which drew attention to global inequality and injustice and the Christian responsibility to take action in response to these issues.
After consulting key supporters of the organisation, the Australian Catholic Relief National Committee decided in October 1995, to recommend to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference a change of name to "Caritas Australia". The bishops agreed to this, and the name change came into effect on July l, 1996.
Today Caritas Australia is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation working in over 35 countries around the world.