Close to 200 Catholic school students and parishioners gathered Jan. 12 for the annual CRS Rice Bowl Mass and luncheon on the campus of Holy Family Church.
The midday gathering highlighted the work of Catholic Relief Services, the international aid arm of the U.S. bishops, and emphasized how the organization’s Rice Bowl collection helps people in need.
As a child, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre told the congregation at Mass, he “identified” with the Rice Bowl collection. He remembers his family constructing the little cardboard boxes — representing a bowl with a simple meal of rice — in which money was deposited throughout Lent.
“Even a child can understand the purpose of a rice bowl, because children understand, in their own way, what it means to be hungry, what it means to be thirsty and what it means to be sick,” he said. “These needs captured in the small cardboard box spoke loudly to me.”
The archbishop said that he didn’t suffer any of those needs in “any significant way,” but I “understood by God’s grace,” and it moved him deeply, he said.
Following Mass, participants moved across the campus to the parish’s Saffin Center, where a luncheon and program were held.
During the program, Archbishop Fabre discussed his work as a CRS board member, noting that he’s personally seen the “joy and gratitude” that comes from the Rice Bowl collection.
He traveled to a rural community in Kenya a few years ago, where CRS was teaching farmers how to irrigate and increase crop yield.
“It was an honor to see those efforts being put into practice,” said the archbishop.
The crowd also heard from Deacon Ned Berghausen, who gave a keynote address. Deacon Berghausen shared that while he was in the Peace Corps he lived in Bangladesh, a country in South Asia where CRS serves. Deacon Berghausen shared that rice is a staple food in that country — the Bengali people eat up to three meals of rice per day. People there would ask what the staple food was in the United States, he said.
“That was hard to answer because food is so abundant here. Not so in Bangladesh,” he said. Despite that, he always got invited to people’s homes to share a meal, he noted.
“It’s incredibly humbling to be given so much from people who have so little. We’re called to be similarly generous,” he said.
Deacon Berghausen shared with his listeners that CRS provides aid to the people of Bangladesh in several ways. The country is prone to natural disasters such as monsoons which can bring significant amounts of rain. CRS, he noted, provides disaster relief and mitigation in Bangladesh.
“Your donation and advocacy provide vital funding. … It will help the people I know and love in Bangladesh,” said Deacon Berghausen.
The Rice Bowl kick-off, which traditionally happens closer to Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22 this year), was held a few weeks earlier to give Catholic schools more time to plan for the collection and find ways to promote it, said Peyton Rhea who coordinated the event. Rhea serves as a community outreach coordinator at Catholic Charities of Louisville.
Catholic schools are asked to promote the collection within the student body and get families involved.
Those gathered also learned that 25 percent of the Rice Bowl collection returns to the Archdiocese of Louisville to aid the needy. Last year the archdiocese received close to $25,000, said Rhea. The overall collection brought in $99,855, he said.
Rhea said that funds from last year’s collection aided St. John Center which serves homeless men, La Casita Center, which serves the Hispanic and Latino community, the St. Vincent de Paul Bread of Life pantry in Bardstown, Ky., and Feed My Sheep, a ministry in Burkesville, Ky.
Following the luncheon, students spent time discussing ways to promote the collection at their schools.