Mark Bouchard wins 2014 CRS Rice Bowl Award

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Mark Bouchard
Mark Bouchard

Mark Bouchard has seen first hand the work done by Catholic Relief Services in impoverished countries. In 1998 he went to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya in east central Africa as part of a CRS-sponsored trip. The experience, Bouchard said, made real what he already knew CRS was doing.

“I never had any doubts about the work CRS does. (The trip) essentially solidified for me the potential that the Catholic Church has around the globe. It was incredibly impressive,” he said in a recent interview.

Now Bouchard’s appreciation of the work done by CRS has been reciprocated.

Bouchard, the coordinator of advocacy, education and national programs for Catholic Charities of Louisville, has been awarded the 2014 CRS Rice Bowl Award.

The award — sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops international aid organization — was presented at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. last month.

CRS presents this award each year to a diocesan partner who “shows dedication and leadership in using the CRS Rice Bowl Lenten program to deepen the Lenten experience of the diocesan community while serving those in need worldwide,” a news release from CRS said.

Since Bouchard starting working with Catholic Charities in 1992, he has continued to enhance and expand the CRS Rice Bowl program.

“It’s really just kind of evolved from that time,” he noted in an interview this week at his office. “It’s just been a matter of trying to create relationships in order to enhance education” of the rice bowl program.

Since 1975 the CRS Rice Bowl program has helped educate U.S. Catholics about world poverty and hunger and served as a resource to deepen their Lenten journey, Matthew Burkhart, the CRS relationship manager for the southeast region, said.

Burkhart said part of the reason CRS chose Bouchard for the award is to highlight the type of collaboration he is able to achieve. Burkhart said he hopes other dioceses can replicate what Bouchard has been able to accomplish.

“Mark invites a number of different of ministries within the archdiocese, as well as students, to play an active role as well,” he said in a phone interview last week.

Burkhart said Bouchard’s commitment to social justice is evident through his dedication to the Rice Bowl program.

“Mark is not only really experienced and knowledgeable, he is very much an inspiration,” Burkhart said. “He is a person that on a daily basis tries to live out his faith.”

For the past several years Bouchard and his staff have hosted a kickoff luncheon to the CRS Rice Bowl Lenten program. Refugees who originated in countries where CRS works share personal reflections about how the rice bowl program has shaped their lives to student representatives from archdiocesan schools.

Prior to that Catholic Charities hosted a Day for Darfur where representatives from CRS, Senator Mitch McConnell’s office and the local U.N. organization took part in a panel discussion addressing the situation at the time in the Sudan. Junior high and high school students were able to ask questions about the legislative advocacy work. In subsequent years Catholic Charities hosted similar programs to benefit Haiti.

Last year the Archdiocese of Louisville raised $92,000 for the Rice Bowl effort. More than 100 parishes and schools took part in the Lenten program.

Bouchard called the award an honor and said there are many players involved that deserve credit as well.

“My take is we are all part of a team,” he said. “Thank you to all the folks who have been a part of this. … We’ve got a great tradition with this and we have a longer tradition of 2,000 years  of trying to do good work in the world.”

This year’s kickoff event was held yesterday, Feb. 19, at Holy Cross High School. Thomas Awiapo, a refugee from Ghana, shared his story of survival. Today Awiapo works for CRS and trains community leaders throughout Ghana, where he lives with his wife and four children.

According to CRS, more than 13,000 parishes and schools across the United States use CRS Rice Bowl each year. The rice bowl program is used to fight hunger and poverty around the world and in dioceses in the U.S. According to statistics from CRS 75 percent of alms given during Lent through the rice bowl are directed to CRS in 91 countries and 25 percent remains in each diocese.

To learn more about the CRS Rice Bowl Lenten program visit crsricebowl.org.

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