Catholic Relief Services photo
CRS volunteer Ana Correia prepares food in East Timor.
Catholic Relief Services photo
CRS volunteer Ana Correia prepares food in East Timor.
The small cardboard “bowls” that have become, for many, a traditional way of observing Lent arrived in parish communities recently. The tradition embraces Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and giving.

Every year, millions of Catholics in the United States participate in Operation Rice Bowl. Catholic parishes and schools from more than 12,000 communities use symbolic rice bowls as the focal point for their prayer and fasting. Participants make the small sacrifice of preparing simple, meatless recipes each week and putting the money they would have spent on a big meal into the containers. Those donations support CRS' mission to fight global hunger and poverty.

Twenty-five percent of proceeds are channeled back into the diocese where they were collected. Last year, money was distributed to Catholic charities and organizations all over the west coast of Oregon.  The remainder of the money helps fund CRS’s global mission to alleviate suffering and promote human development all over the world.

At St. Alexander Church in Cornelius, Nela Kale sends a bowl home with each child enrolled in parish religious education classes.

“We try to make [almsgiving] very hands-on for the kids,” said Kale, director of religious education. “They like to shake the bowls and hear the coins inside.”

Handling the Operation Rice Bowl in this way provides a great lesson in philanthropy for the children, Kale said, but leaving children in charge isn’t without its quirks. Last year the parish received a few bowls stuffed with rice rather than coins by literal-minded youngsters.

But, as they say, it’s the thought that counts, and every little bit of goodwill helps. According to Joe Hastings, an organizer with the CRS western region office, 80 parishes in the archdiocese ordered between 250-700 bowls to be distributed in the pews this year. All of those small donations add up to more than $8 million each year used to assist poverty alleviation projects.

During each of the weeks of Lent this year, Catholic Relief Services will highlight one country and one U.S. diocese with special reflections and stories. To receive the weekly reflections, register online at crsricebowl.org.