A Vision of Transformation: 20 Years of Cross Catholic Outreach

Spring 2021

Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano


A retrospective by Jim Cavnar, President/CEO

Twenty years ago, in 2001, Brian Schutt and I opened the door to Cross Catholic Outreach. We had worked together before, and as Cross Catholic Outreach began, we had a desire to build on that prior experience with a new vision.

The first principle of our founding vision was to work through existing Catholic organizations and ministries instead of sending Americans overseas to start new programs. Throughout the world, we had already seen that wherever there was the greatest poverty, the most desolate communities and the greatest need, the Church was already there in the person of priests, sisters and Catholic lay leaders who were committed to bringing the love of God to the poor. Our vision was to recognize the heroic efforts of these missionaries and to rally the Church in the United States to come to their aid. Empowerment was one of our core values.

Another principle of our founding vision was to put a high priority on accountability to donors. We wanted to make it possible for donors to connect with the priests, sisters and lay leaders serving the poor around the world. Hence, from the beginning, we’ve always let donors give to specific needs and specific projects. We’ve also provided them with detailed reports on how their money was used and the impact they have made on the lives of real people. Excellence in stewardship was another core value.

Another founding principle was to form long-term relationships with our partner ministries overseas. Short-term funding may launch a program, but without ongoing support, those programs often collapse, leaving behind empty buildings and disillusionment. We wanted to create long-term relationships to produce sustainable, long-term transformation of the poor and their communities.

Another principle of our founding vision was integral human development. This value stems from the Church’s teaching that love for the poor should be expressed through concern for both material and spiritual needs. Thus, we have always looked to support missions that are not only effective in alleviating the material poverty of the poor but are also effective in bringing about spiritual transformation.

I once saw the value of that vision when I visited a Catholic ministry in the Philippines that had done an incredible job transforming large areas of the slums in metro Manila.

“Jim,” the ministry partner said, “unless we transform the hearts and values and relationships of the slum dwellers, we can build beautiful new homes for them, but it will all become a slum again in two years. Only Jesus can change hearts.”

The ministry organized people to build beautiful new houses, but they also invited them to prayer meetings and retreats and formed home groups for faith sharing. What I was visiting looked like it had been built yesterday, but it had already been there for five years.

One of the mothers explained, “Before this lay Catholic ministry came here, it was dog eat dog; everyone for himself. No one cared for anyone else. Now we are a community that helps one another, works together and cares for one another.”

Not only was the external environment beautifully transformed, but the hearts of the people had been changed as well.

Experiences like this shaped our mission statement: “We mobilize the global Catholic Church to transform the poor and their communities materially and spiritually for the glory of Jesus Christ.”

Brian, our co-founder and vice president of marketing, said, “Our motivation for starting Cross Catholic has always been tied to a simple vision: that lives and communities can be transformed for the better through Christ and the work of the Church. There’s still much more to do, but the idea that birthed Cross Catholic Outreach — the idea that God can work through us to bring about lasting, transformative change — is as true today as it was 20 years ago when this ministry was founded.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah with Cross Catholic Outreach staff in 2013.
Cardinal Robert Sarah with Cross Catholic Outreach staff in 2013.

Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.