CRS Rice Bowl Inspires Catholics To Do More With Less During Lent

This Lent, as they have for four decades, millions of Catholics around the United States will place a colorful cardboard box and calendar in their homes to begin a spiritual journey that changes lives around the world.

This Lent, as they have for four decades, millions of Catholics around the United States will place a colorful cardboard box and calendar in their homes to begin a spiritual journey that changes lives around the world.

They will be participating in the 41st year of CRS Rice Bowl, a program with an effect that goes far beyond the funds it raises for those who need support and services in communities throughout the United States and overseas.

For Catholic families, the “CRS Rice Bowl Effect” begins conversations about Lent and their faith, about the role of charity, and about the many different people who make up our world family.  For Catholic parishes and schools, it unites communities for Lenten faith reflection around the spirit of serving those in need and the good work of the Church around the globe.  And for those who benefit from its charity, the “Rice Bowl Effect” is a key to a better life.

“There is something truly wonderful about the impact CRS Rice Bowl has on our Catholic community and on the people we serve,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. Operations for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “What we are calling the ‘Rice Bowl Effect’ unites us as a faith community in the service of helping others. It links us to our brothers and sisters around the world through stories, recipes, reflections, and prayer.  And best of all, this effect can be an experience that starts with the very young and extends throughout our lifetimes.”

Rosenhauer noted that in this Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, CRS Rice Bowl opens a special door for Catholics to learn more about – and participate in – the works of mercy done in their name by CRS, the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.  

“For CRS, the preferential love for those oppressed by poverty is at the heart of our work,” said Rosenhauer.  “This year, we have helped improve the lives of millions of people in over 100 countries, work that began when we helped refugees during World War II. CRS Rice Bowl plays a significant role in making sure we are ready and able to do such work, the good news, the merciful story of our Church.”

Twenty-five percent of all contributions stay in local dioceses to support hunger and poverty prevention programs such as community gardens, food pantries, soup kitchens, support groups, and job centers.  The remaining 75% goes to support CRS’ humanitarian programs overseas, providing life-saving assistance and hope to impoverished and vulnerable communities.

But the “Rice Bowl Effect” goes far beyond the money raised.  CRS Rice Bowl provides an expansive collection of resources for families, teachers, catechists, and ministers for the entire Easter season.

For each of the six weeks of Lent, there is a recipe and a story from a different country, focusing on a family or individual – lives that are being changed for the better by a CRS program. Each story illustrates a principle of Catholic Social Teaching and makes the connection between the gift of service and our faith – the “what” with the “why” of charity. 

This year’s features are:

  • Week 1 – Meet Maria from the coffee lands of Colombia

Try the featured recipe from Colombia: Cheese Empanadas with Beans

  • Week 2 – Meet Hongkham from Laos, a mother of four who is keeping her family healthy

Try the featured recipe from Laos: Kao Phiak Saui Tua Leuang

  • Week 3 – Meet Odette from Rwanda, a mother of a healthy baby daughter

Try the featured recipe from Rwanda: Kawunga                

  • Week 4 – Meet Mayra from Honduras who overcame her struggles to excel in the classroom

Try the featured recipe from Honduras: Bean Soup with Chayote Squash and Rice    

  • Week 5 – Meet Vaviroa from Madagascar, a farmer and mother who replanted her flooded fields and put food back on her family’s table

Try the featured recipe from Madagascar: Vary amin’anana

  • Week 6 – Meet the women of Centro Latino, a Catholic Charities-supported non-profit that works alongside the Latino population in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky 

Since its start in a parish in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a response to the famine in the African Sahel region in 1975, CRS Rice Bowl has evolved into a national response to hunger around the world, used by over 13,000 Catholic schools and parishes during the season of Lent.

In its 41 years, CRS Rice Bowl has lifted generations of people out of poverty through the programs it supports.  An orphaned child in a small village in the West African country of Ghana, Thomas Awiapo was lured to school by the smell of food.  By satisfying his hunger, he found a love for learning and went on to college and graduate school in the United States.

The feeding program in the school Thomas Awiapo attended was supported by CRS Rice Bowl. In an amazing twist of fate, Awiapo, with a master’s degree in public administration, became an employee for CRS.  Today, he and many of his former classmates who ate the CRS Rice Bowl food have successful careers in civil service, teaching, medicine, and humanitarian service.

Each Lent, Thomas Awiapo comes to visit Catholic schools and parishes across the U.S. and share his story of how the “Rice Bowl Effect” turned into the face of God for him.

“You can call me the poster child for CRS Rice Bowl, but we’d be closer to the truth if you called my children your poster children,” he says.  “They have never experienced hunger in their lifetime, and today they are all in school. My eldest daughter is on track to be a medical doctor. They are a perfect example of how the ‘Rice Bowl Effect’ continues on and on.” 

Thomas Awiapo and four other CRS staff from countries featured in CRS Rice Bowl will be speaking to U. S. audiences about the work of CRS and life in their home countries during Lent.  They include:

  • Olga Canelas from Honduras;
  • Gabriella Rakotomanga from Madagascar;
  • Nicole Leitzelar from Honduras; and
  • Pascasie Musabyemungu from Rwanda.

CRS Rice Bowl is rooted in tradition but designed to be used in the context of our modern lives.  In addition to a full collection of print and online resources for educators, parish leaders and parents, there is a CRS Rice Bowl app for iOS and Android mobile devices.   

“The app is a great way to keep Lent close at hand,” said Rosenhauer. “It has the full collection of our videos, stories and reflections plus some built-in social media functions and an easy way to set a goal for your Lenten sacrifice and track it. Close to 33,000 people downloaded the CRS Rice Bowl app by the end of Lent last year.” 

CRS Rice Bowl materials are available in print, on the web, and through the mobile app and in English and Spanish. Follow CRS Rice Bowl on Twitter – @CRSRiceBowl and #4Lent4Life – and like CRS Rice Bowl on Facebook.

To donate and learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, visit or download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding.  For more information, visit or and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media: Facebook, Twitter at @CatholicRelief and @CRSnewsGoogle+Pinterest and YouTube.