February 6, 2009

Be Our Guest / Ken Hackett

Operation Rice Bowl helps feed the hungry

As we prepare to observe Lent, many of us find ourselves preoccupied with the hardships brought on by the global economic crisis that followed closely on the heels of a global food crisis.

Amid dire economic news, we see the signs of stress placed upon our families and friends: the stress of dealing with home foreclosures, layoffs and increased costs of living.

But these growing needs are not only evident in our own country and communities. They exist and manifest themselves many times over and with greater intensity in poor countries overseas.

The 40 days of Lent present an opportunity for us as Catholics to deepen our faith and renew our commitment to helping the poor through prayer and personal sacrifice.

In last year’s Lenten Message, Pope Benedict XVI placed special emphasis on sacrifice and “almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods.”

This call to sacrifice in order to help the poor is reflected in Catholic Relief Services’ mission to help our brothers and sisters in need overseas.

News reports of impoverished children gathering corn kernels dropped in the street or parents having to choose which of their children to feed are distressing signs that the global economic and food crises have pushed billions of people to the limits of existence.

Our help is now needed more than ever, with more than 800 million people hungry—300 million of them children.

Operation Rice Bowl, Catholic Relief Services’ annual Lenten program, offers Catholics here in the U.S. an opportunity to follow that call to sacrifice by learning about their brothers and sisters living in poverty, and to make sacrificial contributions that will help them improve their lives.

Each Lent, Catholic families, parishes and schools use symbolic rice bowls during the 40 days of Lent as the focal point for their prayer, fasting and learning. Participants fast in solidarity with those who hunger and make the small sacrifice of preparing simple, meatless recipes from developing countries each week, putting the money they would have spent on a big meal into the rice bowls.

That money goes to support CRS’ mission to fight global hunger.

In the Philippines, Operation Rice Bowl funds programs that help farmers increase their crop yields and ensure food security in their communities. In Egypt, Operation Rice Bowl-funded microfinance programs encourage small businesses so people can earn a living and put food on the table. Operation Rice Bowl also supports water projects around the world, bringing clean water to entire villages.

Last year, Catholics raised more than $7 million through Operation Rice Bowl, 75 percent of which is used to address hunger in 40 countries. The remaining 25 percent stays in U.S. dioceses to support programs that help those affected by rising food prices in our communities.

Since its beginning in 1975, Operation Rice Bowl has raised more than $167 million to fund CRS’ development projects. With participation in almost every American diocese, many parishes and families have adopted Operation Rice Bowl as a way to observe Lent.

(Ken Hackett is president of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Church in the United States. CRS alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.)

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