Pray, fast, learn, give: Operation Rice Bowl provides focus for Lent Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Mar. 10, 2011 -- 1:00 AM

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

The 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts told the story of a woman’s search for enlightenment and self-fulfillment.

I never saw the movie, partly because a Catholic reviewer called it “spiritually barren.” This story — like so many in our culture today — seems to emphasize that we will find happiness by fulfilling our own needs, rather than by reaching out to others.

Pope’s Lenten message
Related Articles:
"Obedience is a wonderful recipe for a holy Lent" column by Bishop Robert C. Morlino

In his 2011 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI alludes to that problem in our culture. He encourages people to let go of all traces of selfishness and self-centeredness by embracing the traditional Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

The Holy Father says, “For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbor.”

Operation Rice Bowl

One way to carry out his message is by participating in Operation Rice Bowl, the annual Lenten program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

In talking about Pope Benedict’s Lenten message, CRS President Ken Hackett said, “This is exactly what we mean at CRS when we say that solidarity can transform the world. We are all part of one human family — whatever our national, racial, religious, economic, or ideological differences — and in an increasingly interconnected world, loving our neighbors has global dimensions.”

Operation Rice Bowl has a different way of looking at life than Eat, Pray, Love. Its theme is  Pray, Fast, Learn, and Give. Operation Rice Bowl offers Catholics an opportunity to follow the Lenten call to sacrifice by learning about their brothers and sisters living in poverty and by making sacrificial contributions to help them improve their lives.

How does Operation Rice Bowl work? Each Lent, people in Catholic parishes, schools, and homes use symbolic cardboard “rice bowls” during Lent as the focal point for their prayer, fasting, and learning. Participants fast in solidarity with those who are hungry. They make small sacrifices by preparing simple, meatless recipes from developing countries, then putting the money they saved into the rice bowls.

Fighting hunger around the world and at home

The money earned is donated to support Catholic Relief Services’ mission to fight global hunger around the world and here in the United States. Seventy-five percent of the funds raised go to support CRS projects overseas. These include agriculture projects to help farmers improve crop yields, water projects to bring clean water to communities, and microfinance projects that support the growth of small businesses and provide families with reliable income.

Twenty-five percent of the funds remain in dioceses in the United States to support local hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. In the Diocese of Madison, for example, funds have gone to support Catholic Charities’ Parish Mobile Food Pantry Program. Started in the fall of 2005 to serve the rural communities who normally do not have access to the larger food pantries available in Madison, the program is a collaborative effort between Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank of Wisconsin.

To learn more about Operation Rice Bowl, go to the Web site at There you can even sign up to receive weekly Lenten reflections sent to your e-mail address.