By Chelsea Le     3/4/2020

Jesus was an advocate for a good meal. 

He, too, felt the sharp pains of hunger in the desert and understood the necessity for physical nourishment, a fundamental human need. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 supplied the hungry with an abundance of food from a seemingly meager offering, and companionship that united those listening to Jesus through a meal.  

This year, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) highlights the connectivity of all God’s people through their Lenten theme, “Hello, World!” The theme travels around the globe to tell the story of three young girls from Honduras, Kenya, and Vietnam, whose aspirations for the future are supported through the CRS Rice Bowl. Keeping the Gospel passage in mind, the message for this Lenten season is that a gift is measured by its intention, not solely by the amount.  

“We pray this year that our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving become a sign of God’s generosity to us,” said Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange, in a bilingual video filmed to encourage participation by Orange County Catholics. “A wonderful way for us to do this, which we have done for many years, is the CRS Rice Bowl. We want to give the Rice Bowl a new life and a new meaning for all of us.”  

CRS Rice Bowl is Catholic Relief Services’ charitable Lenten program. Dioceses, parishes and schools across the U.S. order CRS Rice Bowls and Lenten calendars for their communities. The cardboard, or homemade Rice Bowls, serve as tools for collecting Lenten alms, which are then donated to support CRS programs across the globe.  

As an example of solidarity for parishes and families across the Diocese of Orange, volunteers from CRS and clergy members met at Bishop Vann’s house in February to prepare two CRS Lenten recipes, bánh xèo and baleadas, from Vietnam and Honduras, respectively. These dishes, including others promoted by CRS, are meatless to assume the eating habits of those living in poorer areas of the world. CRS encourages the donation of the money saved from refraining from meat to support the Rice Bowl program. 

The dinner’s Guest of Honor was Truong Duc Tung. Born during the Vietnam War, Tung has been working as the county manager for CRS in Vietnam for more than 25 years by helping farmers identify the risks associated with natural disasters. He works with families to reduce damage through the CRS disaster risk-reduction program. Trinh and her sister Trang, a family with whom Tung has worked directly within Vietnam, are featured on this year’s Rice Bowl design.  

“We work with the weather forecast center and the agricultural extension center to provide information to the local farmer,” Tung said about his duties. “Working with the agricultural extension center provides recommendations for the timing of plantation and the technique for planting. With our intervention last year, the families saw a significant increase in the productivity of rice and peanuts. The children have more food to eat.” 

CRS is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has been a leading international humanitarian agency since 1943. Currently present in 110 countries, CRS aims to raise awareness on global issues and invites Catholics to participate in programs that “work to end poverty and injustice worldwide,” according to their website.  

“As opposed to other NGO organizations such as the American Red Cross, CRS is different,” said Maria G. Arroyo, the Regional Field Director of CRS in the West. “We are present for the long term.” 

Added Most Rev. Thanh Thai Nguyen, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Orange: “According to the word from the Prophet Isaiah, the best way to fast is to help out the poor,” Bishop Nguyen said. “(The Rice Bowl) is a wonderful way to reach out to the people in the other parts of the globe to help them relieve their hunger. Join CRS in whatever parish that you belong in, and do something during this season of Lent.” 

More resources on the CRS and the Rice Bowl program, including stories of hope, Lenten reflections and additional recipes, can be found at CRSRiceBowl.org