It’s not too late to take part in CRS Rice Bowl, say organizers — here’s what it’s all about

By Michele Baker

Correspondent

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The Leban Family stands in front of their new shelter. After a typhoon destroyed their town in December 2012, all of the residents voted to give the first CRS shelter to the Leban family and their newborn triplets. (Photo by Jim Stipe / CRS)

Each year in more than half the parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth, thousands of bulletins are stuffed with materials for the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl Lenten program. Flyers adorned with engaging photos of people from developing countries go up on youth and parish activity boards. Children in religious education classes assemble cardboard rice bowls designed to hold daily offerings. A multicolored calendar of daily reflections, activities, and stories allow participants to catch a glimpse into the lives of those aided by the contributions collected through Rice Bowl.

“It’s very simple to use,” said Tonya Makar of St. Michael Parish in Bedford who uses the new CRS Rice Bowl App on her iPhone. “We do the readings at the dinner table.”

Makar learned about Rice Bowl as lead catechist for the PALS (Partners Assisting Little Souls) program at St. Michael’s. Through the extensive resources available to her on the CRS Rice Bowl website (CRS Rice Bowl | For Lent for Life) she was able to teach parents and children alike about Lent in a Catholic Social Teaching framework. And while the busy mother of two admits that dinnertime reflections may not happen every night at her house, the convert to Catholicism who grew up going on mission trips throughout the country, sees the overarching value of the program.

“The Rice Bowl provides an opportunity for us to have conversations about our faith,” she explained. “Why we give things up for Lent; what it means to sacrifice; what kinds of things we take for granted. It really is much more than a collection.”

Carla Aguilar, of CRS Southwest, concurs.

“Some parishes treat the program simply as a collection and are not aware of the program in its entirety as a catechetical, educational tool,” she said in a recent e-mail.

CRS is the international humanitarian arm of the Catholic community in the U.S. and Rice Bowl is its official Lenten program. CRS describes Rice Bowl as a “...Lenten faith-in-action program” designed to help engage Catholics in the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that are the pillars of the Lenten season. Bringing together Sacred Scripture, traditional devotions like the Stations of the Cross, small daily monetary offerings, and stories of CRS aid recipients serves to illuminate the missionary aspect of the faith along with the call to live in solidarity with the poor.

For Father Thomas Craig, pastor of St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Arlington, this aspect of CRS Rice Bowl is one of the primary reasons he uses it in his parish.

“The call to prayer and the call to sacrifice something on behalf of someone else is important,” he said in an interview. “You don’t have to go far to be a missionary. It’s right here with us. Pope Francis is showing us that this is central to who we are and how we live out the Gospel message.”

And while the deeper aspects of solidarity with the poor, sacrifice, prayer, and fasting remain central to the Rice Bowl program, the actual funds raised are not insignificant. According to Aguilar, last year the Diocese of Fort Worth raised $53,000 through CRS Rice Bowl.

“On behalf of CRS and all of those people we serve, we thank the diocese for its participation and support,” she said. “We hope that parishes will feel like they were a part of the work we do to help alleviate suffering in the lives of our brothers and sisters.”

Furthermore, with about 13,400 parishes and schools in 180 dioceses throughout the U.S. participating in the program, CRS Rice Bowl collected a total of $10 million in 2013. Seventy-five percent of those funds went to overseas relief efforts in places like the Philippines, Kenya, Guatemala, Malawi, and Haiti. Twenty-five percent of funds supported programs of the local dioceses that participated in Rice Bowl with the local bishop deciding how to distribute the money.

“Week 6 of this year’s Rice Bowl program features (a story about) the creative ways that the Archdiocese of Santa Fe has been able to utilize funds that stay locally,” Aguilar said. That story can be found by visiting this website.

With resources available online, through parish formation offices, and a newly developed App, participation in CRS Rice Bowl has become more easier for faithful Catholics to use. Even though the Church is entering the Third Week of Lent, the Rice Bowl program can still enrich Catholics’ experiences this holy season. Deacon Ruben Castañeda who serves as administrator to three parishes — Holy Rosary in Cisco, St. John in Strawn, and St. Rita in Ranger — where Rice Bowl materials are distributed each year had this to say about jumping into the program even at this late date.

“It’s never too late to learn or to do some good for others.”

For more information on Catholic Relief Services, you can visit their website: Catholic Relief Services. For information on CRS Rice Bowl, including materials to participate, visit their website: CRS Rice Bowl | For Lent for Life.

CRS-Rice-Bowl-Philippines-BUTTON.jpgEach year in more than half the parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth, thousands of bulletins are stuffed with materials for the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl Lenten program. Flyers adorned with engaging photos of people from developing countries go up on youth and parish activity boards. Children in religious education classes assemble cardboard rice bowls designed to hold daily offerings. A multicolored calendar of daily reflections, activities, and stories allow participants to catch a glimpse into the lives of those aided by the contributions collected through Rice Bowl.

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