By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
Next to a parish fish fry, nothing says Lent like the little cardboard boxes that sit on kitchen counters at this time of year, collecting money for Operation Rice Bowl.
Those donations are used by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international charitable arm of the U.S. bishops, to fund its aid work around the world.
Students from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville undertake projects each year during Lent to support Operation Rice Bowl. And last week, during a program called “A Day for Haiti,” students learned how their donations have been used to help that impoverished Caribbean nation.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz opened the program — which drew 187 people to St. Raphael School — by telling his young listeners that efforts on behalf of Haiti “fit into your journey to serve others in Christ’s name.”
“There’s no such thing as just purely helping someone,” he told them. “Help is always mutual, meaning there’s no way you can help someone without also being changed. That’s what this is about — widening our eyes and perspectives to see what God is calling us to.”
The program included talks by two representatives of CRS and a panel discussion with people from Haiti and a representative of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office.
Simone Blanchard of CRS told the students via a video feed the many ways their donations have aided people in Haiti since the earthquake crippled the already suffering nation in January of 2010.
“Catholic schools around the world opened up their hearts to raising money and raising awareness,” she told them. “The Archdiocese of Louisville was tremendous in its support after the earthquake. You guys raised $1,850,758.26. Almost $2 million. That is quite impressive, and it has really helped us.”
The funds helped CRS to provide food and water to a million people, she said. And nearly 300,000 people received temporary shelter after the quake.
CRS also has installed 1,300 water filtration units in Haiti. The agency has helped to reunite family members and aided orphanages. It created transitional structures for people to live in, helped to support local artsians starting businesses, aided people stricken by cholera and helped to rebuild a hospital. Funds have also helped to provide lunches in Catholic schools, which serve the “poorest of the poor” in Haiti, Blanchard said.
“Thank you for your generosity and your kindness,” she said.
During the panel discussion, students heard first-hand from several natives of Haiti, including Roosevelt Fenehas, a student at Bellarmine University.
Fenehas said he works with a mission group in Haiti, so he has seen the relief work in person.
“The circumstance for the day-to-day common person is still dire,” he told the students.
Mike Biagi, a representative for Sen. McConnell, read a statement from the senator expressing his support for long-term efforts to aid Haiti. Biagi said the senator also supports temporary protective status for survivors of the earthquake who fled to the United States.
One of the panelists asked Biagi how long this protective status will last, and Biagi said he would take the question to Sen. McConnell.
Another panelist, Seya Cesar, said she was born in Haiti but came to the United States in 1980. Many family members still live there, though, she said.
“I really, really appreciate you guys,” she told the students. “I have a friend who lost seven family members” in the earthquake.
“Haiti always needs help. It’s always something. I?know one day we will succeed, and I?know God will help us,” she said.
Statements from the panelists were followed by questions from the students.
About a dozen students lined up behind a microphone where they asked questions, such as why Haiti has been impoverished for so many years and what the schools are like.