By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
KNOXVILLE — T. Waldmann-Williams admits she is more likely to lose her cardboard CRS Rice Bowl bank each year than she is to fill it with change. This year, though, things are going to be different.
“I have the Rice Bowl where I can see it — right by my Kleenex tissues because I use them quite often,” she quipped. “Every time I sneeze, I’ll consider what I need to get rid of in my life to allow room for God’s plan in my life.”
She credits this newfound inspiration to the initiatives her parish, St. Anthony Parish-Knoxville, has taken on to encourage its members to practice corporal works of mercy during Lent, including Rice Bowl.
To get people excited about Rice Bowl, Father Jake Greiner spoke about the Lenten collection in his homilies Feb. 6-7 at the Knoxville parish where he is pastor. He noted that one local nonprofit, Helping Hands, received a $2,000 donation last year from the portion of diocesan Rice Bowl collections that remain in the diocese. With that money, the organization was able to donate roughly 14,000 pounds of food to families in need.
The pastor noted that Lent is a perfect time for personal growth and spiritual transformation with a focus on praying, fasting in solidarity and almsgiving.
Fr. Greiner told The Catholic Messenger, “It is my hope and prayer that my parishioners are challenged to acknowledge that mercy is not an abstract idea, but mercy is supposed to be concrete actions that we do every day in the practice of our faith. The corporal works of mercy are a great start in living out mercy in our lives.”
After Masses that weekend, Fr. Greiner and the parish’s social action committee served all five ethnic recipes from the Rice Bowl promotional materials for parishioners to taste test. Each of the recipes came from a country that Rice Bowl assists with economic empowerment endeavors. Seventy-five percent of Rice Bowl donations go abroad through Catholic Relief Services, with 25 percent staying local.
“The purpose of the taste testing was to create a relationship with, be in solidarity with, and learn from the five countries Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl program is highlighting this year,” Waldmann-Williams said.
Tasters gave the recipes a wide variety of critiques. Some recipes were deemed “delicious,” while others were labeled as “not salty enough,” “different” or “colorful.” But the project started a constructive dialogue and many parishioners vowed to try the cost-effective, vegetarian recipes at home. The Rice Bowl program encourages families to eat simpler meals when possible during Lent and to donate the savings. “I can’t believe you can feed a family of five for $2.50 and have it taste this good,” one tester commented.
On Feb. 13 and 14 the parish hosted a doughnut social with fair trade coffee, which was sold after the Masses along with fair trade chocolate. The World Fair Trade Organization defines fair trade as a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. Fair trade contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.
On Feb. 27-28 parishioners are invited to make shoes for children in Uganda through a program called “Sole Hope.” Waldmann-Williams said these activities align with the corresponding Lenten weekly learning and reflecting programs on mercy, particularly considering the corporal works of mercy.
Fr. Greiner hopes his parishioners, and all Catholics, will take a spirit of mercy far beyond the Lenten season and the Year of Mercy. “Mercy is supposed to be one of the defining features of our lived experience as Catholics,” he said. “It is my hope and prayer that my parishioners will be people who learn to live mercy — seeing others as Jesus Christ and tending to the needs of his body. If parishioners start living with this vision, it would radically transform a parish and the larger community around it.”