Ash Wednesday begins the 35th year of Operation Rice Bowl, the Lenten program of Catholic Relief Services. Millions of Catholics in the U.S. will use the symbolic rice bowls as the focal point of their Lenten observances. With a calendar suggesting daily reflections and prayer, as well as concrete ways to act, participants can observe Lent in both a spiritual and practical way.
Operation Rice Bowl has become an American Lenten tradition that annually raises about 6 million dollars to fund hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world. The bowls are more than symbolic, they empower people.
Thomas Awiapo, a field expert for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana, travels the United States visiting schools and parishes to share his message of gratitude and thanks. On Friday, February 12th, Thomas visited St. Michael's School in Cary and The Catholic Center in Raleigh to share his story.
Born into extreme poverty in Ghana, West Africa, Thomas was one of four boys orphaned by the deaths of their parents. Thomas says, “We experienced great pain from hunger and often fought over one little bowl of food. We’d wake up with no breakfast. We had no idea what lunch was. We cried for food.”
Life for the boys was one of survival of the fittest. Eventually his two youngest brothers died of malnutrition, leaving Thomas and his oldest brother to fight for food. One day, his brother declared he could not take it anymore and left their village. Thomas, as a young boy, was left on his own living in his family’s mud hut.
Thomas, as most other children in the village, did not like school. He spent his days looking for food and playing in the bush. One day, he saw smoke coming out of the village school and discovered that the children who attended school received a snack and lunch every day. Thomas quickly figured out that by going to school, he would be fed. The school Thomas began regularly attending was a Catholic Relief Services supported school funded by Operation Rice Bowl.
Participation in Operation Rice Bowl ensures that Catholic Relief Services can continue to provide assistance to the needy in more than 100 countries. Of the money that is raised through the rice bowl, 75 percent is used to fund hunger and poverty in 40 countries. The remaining 25 percent stays in U.S. Dioceses to support food pantries and soup kitchens.
“CRS’s Operation Rice Bowl spreads a gospel of hope, love and justice,” Awiapo says. “It empowered me for life by offering me an education.”
In the Diocese of Raleigh, Operation Rice Bowl is coordinated by the Diocesan Office of Peace and Justice. Rice bowls are available by calling 919-821-9751 or emailing Sr. Joan Jurski, OSF, at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Operation Rice Bowl, including stories, photos and multimedia, go to http://orb.crs.org/.