By JADE BROWN, Commentary | Published February 9, 2009
My experience in Cameroon has changed my life and made me a lifelong supporter of CRS. Now, as I work with Parish and Social Justice Ministries at Catholic Charities in Atlanta, I share my experience with others and encourage parishes and schools to get involved in CRS activities, like Operation Rice Bowl.
Operation Rice Bowl is CRS’ Lenten program that calls on Catholics to pray with our families and faith communities; fast in solidarity with those who hunger; learn more about our global community and the challenges of poverty overseas; and give sacrificial contributions to those in need. Each week during Lent, Operation Rice Bowl features a different country where CRS works, along with a story from a real beneficiary. The third week of this year’s program features Tanzania and highlights a program that supports AIDS orphans, much like the one I witnessed in Cameroon.
The CRS-supported organization I worked with in Cameroon, Ngoketunjia AIDS Fighters, assists 430 very desperate children orphaned by AIDS. These children are provided the opportunity to go to school or learn a trade, and receive nutritional, health and psychosocial support. I was able to witness the difference the program made in these children’s lives and their own determination to succeed in order to help other orphans in their communities. I saw how a bag of rice or the chance to sit in a classroom gave these children a hope for their future that they never had before.
Funds from Operation Rice Bowl support many similar projects and participation in schools, parishes and universities around the diocese has grown in recent years. This Lent, about half of all parishes in the Atlanta Archdiocese will participate. St. George Parish in Newnan, for example, has been one of the most active ORB participants, and St. Jude the Apostle School in Sandy Springs has similarly integrated Operation Rice Bowl prayers and learning opportunities into their curriculum.
At the beginning of Lent each year, organizers at St. George give every person in the parish a rice bowl and rosary. The pastor, Father Austin Fogarty, makes use of Operation Rice Bowl resources in his homilies throughout the season, and religious education staff and volunteers integrate the initiative into their work. Every Friday during Lent, parishioners gather to share a meal of the country featured in the Operation Rice Bowl calendar that week. These simple meals help parishioners better understand the challenges of people living in the developing world, where many live on less than $2 a day and can only afford a simple meal.
According to Deacon Steve Swope, associate director of formation for the archdiocesan permanent diaconate and a deacon at St. George, the initiative to promote global solidarity and participation in Operation Rice Bowl has been—and continues to be—a spiritual as well as financial success.
Parish and Social Justice Ministries also holds annual Operation Rice Bowl Friday Lenten lunches at the Chancery. This gives staff at the archdiocese the opportunity to come together to build community over a simple meal while learning about the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Seventy-five percent of the money raised through Operation Rice Bowl will be used to fund CRS’ hunger and poverty projects in 40 countries. The remaining 25 percent stays in the archdiocese to support refugee resettlement services at Catholic Charities, Atlanta, when donations are sent through Susan Sullivan at Parish and Social Justice Ministries.
Jade Brown, CRS volunteer at Parish and Social Justice Ministries, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.