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Lenten Origins of CRS Rice Bowl

February 26, 2024

From the Office of Social Ministry

“Today the cry of so many of our oppressed brothers and sisters rises to heaven and moves the heart of God. Lent is a time to ask ourselves: Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us?” - Pope Francis Message for Lent 2024

Pope Francis’s 2024 Lenten message raises provocative questions about how we respond to those who are hungry–both physically and spiritually. This year, U.S Catholics are on a Lenten journey amidst the third and final year of the U.S. Bishops National Eucharistic Revival, which culminates in July at the U.S. National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis. Amidst our Lenten reflections, it's vital to recognize the centrality of the Eucharist for our faith and the role of Eucharistic Congresses have in our church history, including in the roots of the CRS Lenten Rice Bowl program now used in parishes throughout the US.

On the 200th Anniversary of the United States of America in 1976, the 41st International Eucharistic Congress was held in Philadelphia exploring the theme “Hungers of the Human Family” which was suggested by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and approved by the Vatican.  Thousands of pilgrims from throughout the U.S. and around the world gathered for this historic Eucharistic Congress. Among the listed speakers were Cesar Chavez union leader of farm workers, the social reformer Dorothy Day, the human rights advocate Archbishop Dom Helder Camara of Brazil, Mother Teresa of Calcutta India (who even then some called Saint of the Poor) and Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland, (who became and was named St. Pope John Paul II). As part of the hunger symposium of the Eucharistic Congress, contributors from local parishes in nearby Allentown, Pennsylvania donated 2,000 tons of rice, which was loaded at Philadelphia Pier, bound for Bangladesh. That shipment was one of the first catholic “Operation Rice Bowl” donations. It was around this Eucharistic Congress that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted “Operation Rice Bowl” and in 1977, US Bishops voted to make Rice Bowl a program of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official relief and development agency of the USCCB.

Since then, CRS Rice Bowl has become a cherished Lenten tradition for millions of Catholics across the United States to support people struggling with hunger and poverty at home and around the world. In 2023, nearly 13,000 Catholic parishes and schools across the U.S. participated in CRS Rice Bowl, supporting the work of CRS in more than 120 different countries each year. CRS Rice Bowl is more than just a simple cardboard box; it symbolizes a commitment to solidarity and compassion. As families gather around their tables, they are reminded of the shared responsibility to alleviate suffering and foster hope in communities worldwide. The box also serves as a path for spiritual growth while helping us practice the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Rice Bowl box comes with a Lenten Calendar inside that guides us through the 40 days of Lent with activities, reflections, and stories of hope, which show examples of the communities where Rice Bowl almsgiving is changing lives. The stories are also accompanied by recipes from these countries for meatless meals that can be used on Fridays during Lent. The first Lenten Rice Bowl Story of Hope this year is about the farming family of Adolfo and Florence in Uganda Africa.

Twenty-five percent of donations to CRS Rice Bowl stay in the local diocese that help feed and house those in need, for example through our “One ‘Ohana: Food and Housing for all” social ministries initiative here in Hawaii. For more on CRS Rice Bowl please visit www.crsricebowl.org. As we go through Lent together this year of Eucharistic Revival, let us remember the words of Jesus: "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst (John 6:35).” May we be nourished by the Eucharist to walk as one global family,  praying: “Dear Jesus, You call us, as members of the body of Christ, to serve one another. This Lent, may we be your eyes, to see with compassion. May we be your hands and feet, to serve with love. By encountering you in the Bread of Life, may we joyfully share bread for life with all members of our global families. Amen.” Mahalo.