By Kateri Mancini
For The Visitor
“There is hunger in the air due to prolonged drought. Some people have already lost their animals (cows and goats). Keep us in your prayers. It is heartbreaking when someone turns [to you]; we pray together, but I have nothing material to offer.”
“Unfortunately, the community that we are serving often comes hungry and/or malnourished because money is tight at home and they cannot afford to buy the nutritional food that they need to be able to learn. We are in need to provide a healthy snack.”
These messages, read just days apart at the St. Cloud Mission Office, serve as stark reminders of the very real challenges posed by hunger and poverty in our world today, both near and far.
One message came from Benedictine Father Gabriel Ssenkindo, a friend of the St. Cloud Diocese from Uganda now ministering in Kenya, East Africa. The other came from a local after-school program run by a nonprofit organization in St. Cloud as part of an application for the local Rice Bowl grant program.
Rice Bowl is a program of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. The program strives to help U.S. Catholics enter their Lenten journey of encountering themselves and God more deeply by focusing efforts on how they encounter others.
“The ability to see yourselves in the faces of others, this daily proximity to their share of troubles and their little acts of heroism: this is what enables you to practice the commandment of love, not on the basis of ideas or concepts, but rather on the basis of genuine interpersonal encounter,” Pope Francis has told Catholic leaders.
Similarly, Rice Bowl invites us to encounter our brothers and sisters by learning about their troubles as well as their hopes and triumphs. Providing resources that aid with each of the Lenten practices — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — Rice Bowl focuses on a different country for each week of Lent as well as one U.S. diocese. By sharing stories, recipes, prayers, information and actions, families and faith communities can reflect on, and connect with, our universal church.
But Rice Bowl not only focuses on encountering those far away. Through Rice Bowl, we are able to help address the needs of those across the world, such as Father Gabriel’s community, as well as those in our own backyards, such as hungry after-school students.
Seventy-five percent of all Rice Bowl funds collected during Lent go to Catholic Relief Services’ global hunger programs. This includes agriculture projects, water and sanitation, microfinance, mother-and-child health and nutrition services, and education projects — all focused around alleviating hunger and poverty in some of the most-in-need communities of our world.
The remaining 25 percent is retained locally and distributed as grants to church and community-based nonprofit organizations in central Minnesota striving for that same purpose. Last year, 13 organizations were granted $34,647 in local Rice Bowl funds to help alleviate hunger right here in the St. Cloud Diocese. Their efforts included “backpack” or summer lunch programs for children, cooking courses, rescue foods programs, holiday meal support, emergency financial assistance, community meals, food shelves, EBT (Electronic Benefits Program) availability and other programs broadening use of local farmers markets and food programs for alternative education settings.
Hunger-relief organizations in the area can apply for grants from the St. Cloud Mission Office (grant applications are available online at mission.stcdio.org). Unfortunately, there are more funds requested than can be given out.
“We have been giving out more than comes in because we know the need is great,” said Mission Office director Elizabeth Neville. “We have given out about $35,000 the last two years; we typically bring in about $18,000.”
Due to a surplus of funds from a number of years ago, the Mission Office was able to provide grants totaling more than the 25 percent of Rice Bowl funds collected each Lent; but with this surplus now spent down on the ever-present need, there is fear that local organizations may not be able to receive quite as much funding without increased generosity to Rice Bowl this Lent.
“Our diocese is known throughout the country as one of the most generous per capita for contributions to Rice Bowl as we regularly receive donations of over $80,000 a year from our parishioners,” Neville said. “Though we are so grateful for these generous gifts, the need only continues to grow, and I am hoping and praying that together we reach $90,000 or more this year, which would enable at least two more local organizations to receive assistance.”
2017 marks the 42nd anniversary of the Rice Bowl program. The program, initially begun in 1975 as a response to a growing famine in Africa, has grown to include assistance to all corners of the globe — including our own.
Over the years it has helped multiple generations of Catholics enter into their Lenten journey in a deep and exceptional way, one that benefits not only their own spiritual journey, but also the all-too-often difficult life journey of their brothers and sisters.
“CRS Rice Bowl is about people and the hope we have for each other. It’s about our ability to encounter our neighbors no matter where they live, to love them as God loves us,” said Joan Rosenhauer, CRS executive vice president of U.S. operations.
Whether in East Africa, in St. Cloud, or anywhere in between, we are all called to enter into the love of Christ through the love we share with one another. And Rice Bowl can help.
Rice Bowl resources are offered in both English and Spanish, and are available in print, on the web and through mobile app. Find them at www.crsricebowl.org or www.crsplatodearroz.org. Or contact the St. Cloud Mission Office at 320-251-1100.
For each week of Lent, The Visitor will highlight CRS’ work with a story and a simple, meatless recipe from a country the agency serves. Place the money saved from preparing the simple meal into your CRS Rice Bowl to assist our brothers and sisters in need around the world. At the end of Lent, individuals can give their money to their parish or send donations directly to the St. Cloud Mission Office, 11 8th Ave., St. Cloud, MN 56301.
Meet the Singh family
When the Malaguni River in East India floods, Megha and Raj Singh, their two children and their extended family cannot get to the nearest market — nearly five miles away — to buy and and sell food. If the waters do not recede quickly, their rice fields fail, and their animals become sick from diseases spread through dirty water. The family faces financial danger.
That’s why CRS is helping the Singh family prepare for flooding with new farming tools and techniques. Now Raj plants his fields worry-free using a special type of rice that can survive flooding. He can collect and save his seeds for future use. And he now has the resources he needs to vaccinate his cows, ensuring they, too, survive the floods.
Megha grows vegetables in a kitchen garden, so her family has healthy meals even when she can’t the market. During past floods, the family had to survive solely the on rice. But now, planting vegetables in special sacks, she is able to raise the plants above flood lines, ensuring her family has reliable access to nutritious food.
Just as important, Megha has learned new ways of growing food, so the entire family gets the most nutrition out of every meal. Now, the whole Singh family is healthier, and with these new ways of farming, they can continue to thrive, even during floods.
Watch a video about the Singh family at: http://www.crsricebowl.org/stories-of-hope/week-1.