Solidarity Can Transform the World

The Lenten season is full of discussion about sacrifice, what it means and how it connects you and me to the selflessness that is at the center of our commitment to Christ.

Consider what Pope Benedict XVI said in his Lenten message this year about fasting and the other sacrifices we make for Lent:

By rendering our table poorer, we learn to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love; by bearing some form of deprivation—and not just what is in excess—we learn to look away from our “ego”… and to recognize God in the face of so many brothers and sisters.

“For Christians,” the Holy Father said, “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.”

This is exactly what we mean at Catholic Relief Services when we say that solidarity can transform the world. As we state in our guiding principles: “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 neighbor has global dimensions.”

Operation Rice Bowl, CRS’ annual Lenten program, offers Catholics in the United States an opportunity to follow that call to sacrifice by learning about their brothers and sisters who live in poverty and by making sacrificial contributions that will help our global neighbors improve their lives. This year’s theme, We Are Disciples of All Nations, reflects this opportunity to reach out and engage beyond our borders as we highlight the people, cuisine and CRS projects in Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal, Honduras and Kenya.

Each Lent, Catholic families, parishes and schools use symbolic rice bowls during the 40 days of Lent as the focal point for their prayer, fasting and learning. Participants fast in solidarity with those who hunger. They make the small sacrifice of preparing simple, meatless recipes from developing countries each week and place into the rice bowls the money they would have spent on a big meal. That money goes to support CRS’ mission to fight global hunger.

Catholics raise approximately $6 million every year through Operation Rice Bowl, 75 percent of which CRS uses to fund hunger and poverty projects in 40 countries. The remaining 25 percent stays in U.S. dioceses to support food pantries and soup kitchens.

Since its beginning in 1975, Operation Rice Bowl has raised more than $199 million to fund CRS’ development projects. With participation in almost every diocese in the United States, many communities and families have adopted CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl as a way to observe Lent.

As you contemplate the sacrifice of Christ during Lent, I hope you will come to see that his sacrifice united all of us in this world into his family. And as you sacrifice in this season, I hope you will see it as a joyful burden rather than a painful sacrifice for your family.

As Pope Benedict said in his message: “The Lenten period is a favorable time to recognize our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.”

Ken Hackett is the president of Catholic Relief Services.

Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. Its mission is to assist the poor and disadvantaged, promote development of all people, and to foster charity and justice throughout the world. To learn more about the work of CRS and how you can help, click here.