How Catholics, Lent, and bowls of rice are changing the world

Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program aims to continue its forty-year Lenten tradition of supporting hunger relief– and one of its past beneficiaries is now a spokesman for the project.
“Many years ago when I was a hungry boy in Ghana and living without parents or family, the smell of food lured me to the village school. There I was nourished and lifted off the path of likely death,” Thomas Awiapo said Jan. 16.
“That school food program existed because of the little box we call rice bowl.”
Awiapo was orphaned in his home country of Ghana before he was 10 years old. He credits a Catholic Relief Services-supported lunch program he discovered at age 12 with changing his life, and the lives of his children.
“You can call me the poster child for CRS Rice Bowl, but we’d be closer to the truth if you called my children your poster children,” he said.
“They have never experienced hunger in their lifetime, and today they attend university, high school and secondary schools without missing a beat.”
Awiapo now works for Catholic Relief Services and trains community leaders throughout Ghana and is presently touring the U.S. to speak about the rice bowl program.
The mainstay of the program is a small cardboard box. Families and individuals, as well as parishes and schools, put in a small amount of money each day of Lent to help hunger relief around the world.
At present there are an unprecedented number of hunger emergencies in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, where war has caused interruptions to food supplies, unemployment, and homelessness, forcing millions to live as refugees. Another food emergency is in West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak has been a major disruption to normal life.
Since its creation in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl has raised $250 million to fight hunger, the relief agency reports to Catholic News Agency.
“CRS Rice Bowl offers families, schools and faith communities an opportunity to put their faith into action while learning about the lives and struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world,” said Beth Martin, the program’s director. “We’re encouraging people to reflect on what 40 years of CRS Rice Bowl has accomplished and challenging them to put one dollar for every day of Lent in their rice bowl.”
Last year the program added a new app to help people track their donations. The Rice Bowl app, available in English and Spanish, now has new Lenten reflections, integrated Twitter support, and improved tracking for Lenten sacrifices.
Other new material for 2015’s rice bowl includes the “What is Lent?” video series. It will provide viewers with Lenten reflections from Catholics such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and CRS president Carolyn Woo.
The CRS Rice Bowl Global Kitchen Video Series will feature television personality and cook Father Leo Patalinghug teaching how to cook five meatless recipes from the five countries in focus this year: Tanzania, Nicaragua, Niger, Lebanon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Catholic Relief Services has also prepared solidarity reflections to provide prayers and activities, for youth groups, high school classes, and young adults.

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