‘Giving Back’ Instead of ‘Giving Up’ This Lent

This month's letter is from CRS Executive Vice President Joan Neal, who oversees operations in the United States.

Dear Friend,

With only weeks until Ash Wednesday, millions of Catholics across the United States are preparing to observe Lent, the season for reflection, fasting and giving.

Planning for this year's Operation Rice Bowl, Catholic Relief Services' annual Lenten program, I find myself reflecting on our agency's mission to alleviate the devastating effects of poverty, conflict and injustice. I also reflect on the people who help us make that dream a reality – like the participants of Operation Rice Bowl who, every year, contribute so largely to our vision of “one human family” by learning about, fasting with and praying for the world's poorest people.

CRS has worked overseas for many years, providing emergency relief and humanitarian assistance in more than 100 countries. But what we have learned is that the world also needs a commitment to live in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. Catholics can live this commitment by showing that we care, by raising awareness about international humanitarian issues and by advocating for those whose voices are not heard.

Here in the United States, we work with college students, teachers, parishes and other faith-based groups to provide them concrete ways of getting involved. Using the principles of Catholic social teaching, we help Catholics respond to the call of the Gospel to live as one human family. And Operation Rice Bowl is a way to do just that.

ORB has supported projects to eliminate hunger around the world for more than 30 years. It is a great example of how Catholics in the United States can learn about humanitarian and social-justice issues and pray for the people most affected by hunger – while at the same time making a direct impact through their contributions.

Each Lent, Operation Rice Bowl participants put donations into individual cardboard bowls, symbolic rice bowls. The money is collected and donated to projects that alleviate hunger in 40 countries, including the United States. During my travels with CRS, I have had the privilege of personally witnessing the impact of these contributions on the lives of vulnerable people.

The Operation Rice Bowl calendar and website were designed to help enrich the Lenten experience by providing daily activities, prayers, educational resources and traditional recipes from around the world. This year's featured countries are Guatemala, Mali, India, Haiti and Cameroon. Preparing simple meals using recipes from these countries is a way to observe Lent while learning about different cultures and the effects of hunger and poverty.

All recipes use food staples – like rice and beans – from countries where people often live on less than $2 a day, and where meat is considered a luxury. For instance, Operation Rice Bowl supports a school in Calcutta, India, that serves hot meals to orphans and poor students. The school is a refuge to many children who once lived on the street, struggling to survive, and can now rely on at least one good meal every day.

While 75 percent of all money raised is used to fund projects overseas, the remainder stays in local dioceses to support food pantries, soup kitchens and other programs aimed at feeding hungry people, such as the outreach center in Fort Myers, Florida that supplies food to more than 100 people in the community.

Over the years, Operation Rice Bowl has become a tradition for many Catholic families, and in classrooms and parishes. As we prepare to observe another Lenten season, I urge you to respond to the Gospel's call to love your neighbors, near and far, by helping others who are less fortunate. Your prayers, your sacrificial giving and your commitment to learn about global poverty will change lives. Together, as one human family, we can transform the world!

On behalf of all the people we serve, may God continue to bless you and yours.

Joan Neal
Executive Vice President, U.S. Operations

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