The Lenten season approaches and, at Catholic Relief Services, that means the season of CRS Rice Bowl.
In 1975 a group of Catholics in Allentown, Pennsylvania, heard the cries of hungry people in the Sahel region of West Africa, which was suffering from famine. During Lent, they created Operation Rice Bowl to reach across the ocean with their prayers and donations.
Two years later, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the program as a recurring expression of their Lenten tradition. CRS Rice Bowl became a pillar of our work as the official international relief and development agency of the Catholic community in the United States. So this Lent, for the 40th time, Catholics will take part in fasting and almsgiving as we prayerfully consider the plight of the hundreds of millions in God’s family who hunger for food every day.
In the past 4 decades, much has changed. CRS Rice Bowl has spread from Allentown to the majority of parishes nationwide. You can now download the CRS Rice Bowl app—and I urge you do so. You can watch videos about the impact CRS Rice Bowl has in countries where hunger is endemic. You can also hear personal reflections on the meaning of Lent from prominent Catholics and learn how to prepare simple meals that are enjoyed by the people CRS serves. And you can get ideas for small sacrifices you and your family can make during the 40 days of Lent that will help our global brothers and sisters in need.
So much has changed! But the basic CRS Rice Bowl has remained the same: a compact and colorful cardboard box that is a repository for pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars that will be given to others as a sign of our oneness with them—wherever they happen to live in God’s creation.
In 40 years, the coins have added up to $250 million! Think of that. Think of how many bellies have been filled, how many children nourished, how many lives saved, how many families healthy and prosperous because of the sacrifices made to fill that little
bowl. It is yet another wondrous miracle that God has used our hands, our minds, our emotions, our dedication and our faith to create.
We know that there is still much more to do. And we pray that once again millions of you will participate in CRS Rice Bowl, and, through your participation, develop an understanding of the unity of mankind that will inform your faith for many years to come.
As I write this letter, I am just back from a trip to Haiti, where we marked the fifth anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed so much and cost so many lives. We were celebrating the rebuilding of St. François de Sales, the oldest Catholic hospital in Port-au-Prince—and one of the most important. Because of your faith, the hospital will resume its mission of caring for some of the poorest people, and will expand its training for doctors, nurses and other health workers who will care for many more people in Haiti’s future.
I urge you to think back to how you felt when you first heard about the earthquake: seeing the images of the destroyed homes, learning of the tens of thousands dead and of the many more forced to live under the barest of shelters, scrounging for necessities. You felt their suffering and you responded generously.
That feeling is the essence of solidarity. And solidarity is the essence of CRS Rice Bowl, which provides an opportunity every year for you and your family to live your faith by caring for the world’s hungry. They might not be as visible as people caught in a natural disaster like an earthquake or typhoon that dominates your TV screen, but their daily suffering is real, and, through you, God’s love for them is manifest.
We know that God is bountiful, and that there is enough food in the world for all. It is man who has made the systems that provide too much to some and too little to many. CRS Rice Bowl is one way we can change things for the better.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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