A young South Sudanese refugee raising her siblings in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. A father returning home after decades of civil war in Sri Lanka to find his farm overgrown. A young woman unable to find work in Gaza — and forbidden from seeking opportunity abroad. These are just some of the stories participants will explore through CRS Rice Bowl, Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten faithin-action program. Following the lead of Pope Francis, CRS Rice Bowl invites Catholics throughout the country to take part in the second year of Share the Journey, a global campaign launched by the pope to raise awareness and inspire action on behalf of migrants and refugees worldwide.

For nearly 45 years CRS Rice Bowl has been sharing the stories of women, men and children with whom CRS works. Built around the Lenten spiritual pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the program has been a tradition for thousands of Catholic families in every Diocese in the U.S. Every year, people in more than 14,000 faith communities throughout the country are using nearly 4 million ‘rice bowls’ for almsgiving, resulting in nearly $12 million annually — $9 million of which supports CRS programs throughout the world. The remaining $3 million, or 25 percent of total alms collected, stays in the local Diocese, supporting hunger and poverty alleviation efforts.

For individuals like Alejandra Estrada, a parish volunteer in the Diocese of Orange, CRS Rice Bowl isn’t just a charity — it’s a way of living out her Catholic faith. “We are called to announce the Gospel with our actions,” she said. “As Catholics, we should live Lent with a lot of intensity, through moments of prayer, reflection and almsgiving.” An immigrant herself, Estrada understands better than most the kinds of struggles faced by many of the people featured in the CRS Rice Bowl stories. And she’s passionate about bringing those stories to life for her community.

“It’s that connection to those we’ve never met that makes CRS Rice Bowl an integral part of the Lenten journey,” said Beth Martin, director of U.S. Programs for Catholic Relief Services. “Our faith calls us to welcome the stranger and care for those in need. Lent is a perfect time to reflect on our lives and deepen our commitment to our neighbors — both near and far.”

CRS Rice Bowl materials are designed for families, parishes, educators, universities and Dioceses. They are available in print, on the web and through the mobile app — and in both English and Spanish. Follow CRS Rice Bowl on Twitter @CRSRiceBowl, join the CRS Rice Bowl group on Facebook and download the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.

To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, visit crsricebowl.org.

—Catholic Relief Services 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 crs.org or crsespanol.org and follow Catholic Relief Services on social media: Facebook, Twitter at @CatholicRelief, @CRSnews and @CRSnoticias, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.

—Originally published in the March 23-29, 2019, issue of The Inland See.