Operation Rice Bowl Continues Lenten Tradition of Giving

Missionary of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC) Sister Lisa Valentini gathers on the beach in the Dominican Republic with college students and adults who joined her for Mission Experience. (Photo courtesy MSCs of Reading)

Missionary of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC) Sister Lisa Valentini gathers on the beach in the Dominican Republic with college students and adults who joined her for Mission Experience. (Photo courtesy MSCs of Reading)

Staff writer

The sight of a small, cardboard container shaped like a rice bowl placed in the dining room or kitchen has been a common sight during Lent for families in the Diocese of Allentown since Operation Rice Bowl (ORB) began 1975.

A simple sight, a simple plan – but it helps so many people around the world. That’s the miracle of ORB.

It’s become a Lenten staple that families or groups eat a simple meal one day a week during Lent and contribute the funds that would have been spent on a more elaborate meal to ORB to aid the world’s hungry.

Together with a rabbi and three ministers, Msgr. Robert Coll – pastor emeritus of Assumption BVM, Colesville, now retired to Naples, Fla. – first organized ORB as an ecumenical response to the African drought of 1974-75.

Each Wednesday during Lent, families in Allentown would hold a simple meal and place the savings from the meal into a “rice” bowl. The families would then place their offerings in a special bowl at their house of worship. Through ORB, families or other groups enhance the Lenten experience through prayer, fasting, learning and giving.

Since 1980, Msgr. John Murphy, director of ORB in the Allentown Diocese and director of the diocesan Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, has supervised the ORB collection in the Allentown Diocese. Msgr. Murphy subsequently forwards the collection to Mark Smith, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Temporal Affairs and chief financial officer, and then to Bishop John Barres.

“The cross tells us of one who waits around the bend to bear our burden or even to lift us up if we fall, but he does not force any person to follow his way. The choice is ours … it is mine, yours, up to each of us,” said Msgr. Murphy, pastor of St. Thomas More, Allentown.

“The cross continually reminds us that the victim on the cross was God’s only begotten son. He taught us to love one another as he loves us.

“There is one Gospel, one truth, one Lord. And the same Lord who cried out, ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit’ was the same Lord who said ‘whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me.’

“The people of the Diocese of Allentown each year generously, lovingly and unselfishly give their all to Christ so that they may give Christ to all.”

Msgr. Murphy said ORB bore $159,344.61 last year. After $4,244.51 for expenses and $3,600 for reserve for 2015, there was $151,500 for distribution.

Sister Lisa Valentini is a Missionary Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC) and a native of the Diocese of Allentown. She serves her community as coordinator of mission appeals, traveling among parishes speaking about MSC foreign missions and asking for financial assistance. ORB contributed $3,000 to Sister Lisa in 2015.

The ORB money will help Sister Lisa share Christ’s love through the MSCs.

Sister Lisa is an inspirational speaker on the topic of the MSC missions, and spent many years in mission among the people of the Dominican Republic in the poor town of El Factor, where she ran two preschools. Today Sister Lisa conducts retreats for children and adults, and continues to benefit the people of the Dominican Republic by offering mission experience trips to El Factor.

American teenagers and adults join Sister Lisa for mission experiences during winter, spring and summer. For many of the people who participate as mission partners, their lives are forever changed. By day, the mission partners complete various tasks aimed at helping the community thrive, and they offer Christ-centered arts and crafts activities for hundreds of children.

By evening, Sister Lisa provides a time of prayer and reflection in addition to the celebration of the Mass. Students and adults soon realize there is much to be learned by opening one’s heart and mind to Jesus’ Sacred Heart present among the poor.

The mission of Sister Lisa continues to enable God’s people to open their hearts and to be transformed so that they, too may strive to be the heart of God on earth.

Other programs that received grants from 2015 ORB were:

Diocese of Allentown, $36,000.

Catholic Relief Services, $71,500.

Missionaries of Charity of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, which has some sisters serving in Mahanoy City in the Diocese of Allentown, $20,000. These funds are used for caring for the poorest of the poor in India and remember the gracious and charitable work that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – commonly known as Mother Teresa – did in her lifetime.

Dominican Sisters of Thanh Tam, $3,000.

Missionary Servants/Most Blessed Trinity, $3,000. The missionaries work in rural areas, inner cities, amongst the Latino communities, dealing with the aged, at risk youth and provide social services to the needy. They minister in the United States and have missions in Puerto Tico and Mexico. The Mission Advancement Office is located in Philadelphia.

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, $3,000. They are presently active in Korea, China and Ecuador. They teach in elementary and high schools, early education centers, study halls for the underprivileged, and centers for runaway youth and abused women. They also do parish work with children with disabilities.

Sister Agnes Matthew, $3,000. She is one of the Christu Jyothi Sister Order, also known as “The Sisters of Christ the Light” work in India with speech and hearing impaired children. There are 100 children attending their school. Some are orphans and others come from very poor families. Classrooms, hearing aids and special equipment are essentials for helping these children with special needs.

After completing school the children are able to speak, read and write which they never thought they could. Edward Liszka, administrative assistant for the Propagation of the Faith and St. Peter the Apostle Fund in the Diocese of Allentown, met Sister Agnes when she visited St. Thomas More and listened first hand of their mission work in India.

Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Hyderabad Province, India, $3,000. They provide health services, education and orphanages and boarding homes, adoption centers, shelter homes for rehabilitation, social services and centers for pastoral and evangelization for spreading the Gospel values to all.

St. Anne Middle School, India, $3,000. Father John Santiago John Kennedy is the missionary that is working in this area, Tamil Nadu, India. ORB supported them in 2014 for a much needed school bus for transporting students to the school. This year he is working on putting up a compound wall around the school property. The government requires the school to have a permanent wall that gives the school protection from unnecessary disturbance from local people and stray animals.

St. James Catholic Church-Sunyani Ghana, $3,000. Father Paul Agyei is the pastor. He needs assistance to complete the second phase of the church, which includes columns, decking and a basement floor. A group from the Diocese of Allentown met last year with Father Paul about his project: Msgr. Murphy; Msgr. Robert Wargo, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker, Orefield; Father Joseph Kweder, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More; and Liszka.