Parishes prepare to participate in annual hunger-fighting initiative - Catholic Courier

Parishes prepare to participate in annual hunger-fighting initiative

ROCHESTER — When parishioners at St. Paul Parish in Webster participate in Operation Rice Bowl each Lent, they go all out.

The parish incorporates Catholic Relief Services’ hunger-fighting program into the prayer petitions in the liturgy, into articles in the bulletin and into lessons taught through its School of Religion. The parish also hosts a guest speaker on Operation Rice Bowl each year on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday.

This level of participation has helped the parish become the top fundraiser for Operation Rice Bowl; during the 2008 campaign in February and March, the parish raised $6,301.76, which was nearly double the second-highest total.

Larry Winter, St. Paul’s Operation Rice Bowl coordinator, explained why the program of prayer, fasting, education and donations moves people to participate.

“The needs of people are not only evident in your own town and county, but they exist and manifest themselves many times overseas,” Winter said. “Catholic Relief Services addresses that issue.”

The “rice bowl” portion of the program’s name is a symbol of the sustenance on which many people in developing countries live, said Dennis Fisher, senior program officer of Catholic Relief Services’ Northeast region, who spoke to Operation Rice Bowl coordinators Nov. 20 during a visit to Rochester.

“The basis of our vision comes from Catholic social teaching that global solidarity will help transform the world,” Fisher said.

The Diocese of Rochester is one of the top dioceses in terms of participation in Operation Rice Bowl and is one of the few dioceses that is working to set up global-solidarity teams in each of its parishes, Fisher said. During the 2008 Operation Rice Bowl Campaign, $78,381.89 was raised by the Rochester Diocese’s parishes, schools, campus ministries and organizations.

A quarter of the proceeds, or $19,595.35, will be used to fight hunger locally, while CRS will use the remaining 75 percent of proceeds to fight hunger and poverty in developing countries worldwide. Annually, the national campaign raises about $6 million, Fisher said.

“Of 100 countries where CRS operates, 44 are identified as food-security countries, and contributions are distributed to those 44,” he said.

Fisher also highlighted stories of several people helped by CRS in Egypt, Tanzania, Ghana, the Philippines and Honduras, which will be the 2009 Operation Rice Bowl focus countries. He also showed participants the 2009 program materials, including a Lenten calendar with recipes and information about Catholic social teaching that can be used during the campaign.

This year, with a global food crisis burgeoning, the Operation Rice Bowl program is needed more than ever, Fisher observed. Worldwide, 854 million people are hungry, he said, and 25,000 people die each day of hunger.

“Market economics is treating food as a commodity, yet in fact it is a human need,” Fisher said.

In addition to trying to spread the message that profiteering on sustenance is immoral, CRS works to teach farmers in developing countries which crops will be more drought resistant and how to reduce the use of pesticides, Fisher said. The organization also offers low-interest loans to small businesses and encourages the education of adults and children so they can find work, he noted.

Some parishes participate in Operation Rice Bowl by hosting hunger banquets that feature a simple meal and fundraising, while others host speakers and collect small monetary donations each week, he said. CRS’s Operation Rice Bowl Web site,, also features videos and virtual tours of countries, which Fisher said are popular with students.

“It gives kids a larger look at what’s going on,” he said.

One Operation Rice Bowl goal is to teach young people the tenets of Catholic social teaching, including dignity of the human person, community and participation, rights and responsibilities, option for the poor, dignity of work and rights of workers, solidarity, and care for God’s creation, Fisher said. To that end, during his visit to the diocese, Fisher took part in the Diocesan Youth Convention, which had a global-solidarity theme.

Solidarity was how Operation Rice Bowl got its start in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa. The program was conceived as a response to the drought in the African Sahel. Since then, the campaign has raised more than $160 million to fund development projects worldwide, and more than 14,000 faith communities in the United States take part.

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