by Luke Heineman
As the annual Lenten season begins once more, Boston College students have seen the return of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowls. The Rice Bowl program takes place throughout the entirety of the Lenten season, encouraging participants to engage in the three components of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Rice Bowls that are distributed come along with a 40-day calendar with different reflections, prayers, teachings, and challenges to complete every day. The program encourages participants to donate money, reflect on their faith, and strive to develop a deeper relationship with Christ. While the program encourages fasting, this is not to be taken in the sense of giving up food, but rather to remove obstacles that come in the way of God.
The tagline for the Rice Bowl program is more than faith and action, however. It is “faith, action, and results.” The program itself began over 40 years ago in response to famine in Africa. Starting with a few parishes in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the CRS Rice Bowl program has grown to encompass over 13,000 U.S. Catholic parishes and schools. Since 1976, the program has gathered over $250 million to support programs that fight hunger and poverty across five different continents. Approximately a quarter of all proceeds go towards supporting organizations that alleviate hunger in local parish communities as well. Both at home and abroad, the Rice Bowl program exemplifies the Catholic teaching of a universal church.
So why should BC students care? Christian Avila MCAS ‘16, a student ambassador of the Catholic Relief Services right here at Boston College, explains just that. This is the type of service that works for the betterment of both the participant and those who receive the proceeds. The participant is benefitted “through prayer direction, inspirational anecdotes, and insightful reflections” says Avila. Should one be looking to do more good during the Lenten season, the Rice Bowl program should certainly be taken into consideration. Avila took interest in the program because of the unique manner in which it “provide[s] people the opportunity to attentively give and have the proceeds fund both international humanitarian efforts and local hunger alleviation programs.” He hopes that through this program, participants may not only grow in faith and character, but find God in all things.
Within his first year of being named Pope, Pope Francis called for an end to world hunger, saying “We are in front of a global scandal of around one billion – one billion people who still suffer from hunger today. We cannot look the other way and pretend this does not exist.” It is strange for us to comprehend that so many hundreds of millions of people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, while over two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are considered to be overweight or obese. It would indeed seem that some sort of global scandal is underway. Think, for a moment, of how easy it is for most people here to acquire food, and how much food goes to waste every single day (peek into the trash cans at any dining hall on campus sometime for reference). The vast majority of people suffering from hunger are located far away in developing countries so it is easy for Americans to ignore this issue.
How can so many suffer from lack of food while others see food as a commodity often taken for granted? Studies will site harmful political and economic systems, population growth, climate change, and war as sources of the turmoil. However this is not a sufficient answer; some of these factors may suggest that scarcity of food is the issue at stake. This is far from the truth. In fact, poverty and inequality cause hunger much more than lack of resources do. The world produces more than enough food: technological and scientific innovations alongside revolutionary techniques in agriculture have provided the human race with the ability to feed the entire world. If anything, greed and lack of humanity is the root cause of worldwide hunger. This should not be a difficult issue to solve; famines, droughts, and food riots should not be viewed as a natural Malthusian occurrence. Consider the fact that trillions of dollars are spent worldwide to confront global food waste.
The CRS Rice Bowl program is one of many programs that work to confront this global social injustice issue. Those interested in donating can find more information online at crsricebowl.org/give or download the CRS Rice Bowl app. Recall that when Jesus was confronted with a starving multitude, he instructed his disciples to feed them, rather than send them away (Luke 9: 10-17).