By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
A mother in Malawi, Africa, was in despair. Her newborn son’s weight had dropped from 6 pounds to 3 pounds, despite her efforts to fortify him through breastfeeding. She feared for his life but wasn’t sure what to do.
CRS Rice Bowl representatives in the area came to her aid, offering rations of supplemental infant formula. Three months later, the baby boy was thriving.
“It only took $12 to restore that baby,” said Micter Chaola, a Malawi ag specialist for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). “It seems like little support, but the impact is very big.”
CRS Rice Bowl collections will begin again this year on Ash Wednesday and continue through the Lenten season. Rice Bowl is a program which encourages prayer, fasting, almsgiving and awareness of global poverty. Twenty-five percent of funds collected in the Diocese of Davenport stay in the diocese; 75 percent go to CRS programs around the world. The diocese kicked off local efforts with Mass and an informational luncheon at St. Joseph Parish in West Liberty on Jan. 27.
Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, noted that it’s the first time a Mass has accompanied the annual kickoff luncheon. Father Greg Steckel, pastor of the West Liberty parish, offered a “masterful” homily to set the mood for the day.
During his homily, Fr. Steckel explained, “We fast and pray in Lent … that we might be able to hear Jesus tell us, ‘It was me’ who you were helping when you helped me find clean water, an adequate food supply or when you were putting clothes on my back when I was so cold, or giving me assistance in an illness.”
Fr. Steckel continued, “We place little rice bowls on our tables to remind us that there are those whose lives are tragic compared with the relative comfort that we take for granted … (It’s about) being part of something that gives them a hand up, in order for them to be able to have the God-given dignity to figure out for themselves what is needed in their own communities and how to go about making life tolerable for their own families.”
The luncheon included Mexican and South-American rice dishes, homemade by Hispanic members of the West Liberty parish. As guests dined, Chaola talked about the country of Malawi and showed a video of how Rice Bowl efforts have improved lives there.
Malawi is a land-locked country in southwest Africa. Shortened rainy seasons in recent years have caused a crisis among its residents, 80 percent of whom work in agriculture. Rice Bowl provides farmers with vouchers for quick-growing seeds, allowing farmers to have more success growing crops for themselves and for market. Loan programs have helped residents become more resilient financially. Rice Bowl also offers food rations to vulnerable children under the age of 2 years, Chaola said.
Deacon candidate Ricardo Rangel, a member of St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City, offered Spanish translation during the presentation.
Ann Elsbecker of St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville said the event was informative and thought-provoking. For her, the presentation brought home the message in Fr. Steckel’s homily: “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
For questions about Rice Bowl, contact your parish or the Social Action office at (563) 324-1911.