Operation Rice Bowl funds stretch around the world

By TARA CONNOLLY Staff writer

One of the oldest Lenten programs in the United States is underway in the Diocese of Allentown to bring relief and aid to several projects in the diocese, Africa, Asia, India, Ghana, Russia and Vietnam.

Operation Rice Bowl (ORB) was established in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown as a response to the famine in the African Sahel region. The idea has withstood the test of time and funded countless efforts to fight poverty and hunger in the United States and overseas.

The program evolved from Msgr. Robert Coll. pastor emeritus of Assumption BVM, Bethlehem, now retired to Naples, Florida, and an interfaith group in the diocese, out of concern for the millions of people who were starving in Third World countries.

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 diocese. Msgr. Murphy forwards the collection to Mark Smith, secretary of the diocesan Secretariat for Temporal Services and chief financial officer, and then to Msgr. Alfred Schlert, diocesan administrator.

“The diocese can be very proud of what has been accomplished – not only in the diocese, but worldwide. Through the program millions of dollars have been provided to people in need of the basic necessities of life,” said Msgr. Murphy.

“It all began here – a relatively small diocese – and we have touched the lives of so many people,” he said.

The program works by parishioners eating one sacrificial meal a week and donating the proceeds to the ORB program, which largely feeds the hungry in mission countries and the diocese. Through ORB, families or other groups enhance the Lenten experience through prayer, fasting, learning and giving.

“The people of the diocese each year generously, lovingly and unselfishly give their all to Christ so that others can encounter Christ,” said Msgr. Murphy.

Ed Liszka, administrative assistant to Msgr. Murphy, said ORB bore $163,458.19 last year. After $3,994.10 for expenses and $3,800 for reserve for 2016, there was $155,664.09 for distribution.

Father Paul Agyei, pastor of St. James, Sunyani Ghana, received $2,500 to aid in the construction of a new church.

According to Liszka, Father Agyei visited St. Thomas More, Allentown and St. Joseph the Worker, Orefield last summer and in summer 2015 to meet with Msgr. Murphy; Msgr. Robert Wargo, pastor; and Father Joseph Kweder, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More.

“The parish is growing and is working hard to complete the second phase of the church structure, which includes flooring, columns and walls,” said Liszka.

Funds were also disbursed in the amount of $20,000 to the Missionaries of Charity of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to care for the poor in India and in honor of the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Mary Mother of God Mission Society in Russia was awarded $2,500 to assist two American priests who arrived in the Primorye region to revive the Catholic Church. They reclaimed the original church from the government and will use monetary support to strengthen the future of the Catholic Church in Russia.

The School Sisters of St. Francis received $2,500 for their mission in Barbeton, South Africa and missions in Central Asia. Their missionary work involves care for the sick children and the elderly, along with operating preschools.

Funds in the amount of $2,500 were given to the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, who serve the United States and Vietnam by providing direct services to those in need and the disadvantaged. The sisters are also involved in youth religious education and performing charitable works.

Locally, the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Reading were awarded $2,500. Formed more than 100 years ago, the community has cared for newborns, orphans, single mothers, the elderly and terminally ill, and remains committed to bringing God’s love to all.

ORB presented “Romania Valentia,” a nonprofit association, with $2,500. The association is made up of foreign and American volunteers that engage in mission work in Bucharest, Romania. Their work involves educating abandoned children and teaching needy families food preparation, sewing and proper hygiene.

Rosemary Leblond, a parishioner of St. Thomas More, did humanitarian work there and last summer gave a presentation about it to students at St. Ambrose Church, Schuylkill Haven.

In addition, the Diocese of Kumbakonam, India and the mission Diocese of Vijayawada, India each received $2,500. Kumbakonam will use the funds to promote spiritual, social, education and health ministries and training for its Catholic education facilities. Vijayawada, the largest city in the diocese with a population of 5 million, is home to diocesan centers for youth, homes for the elderly and disabled, hospitals, orphanages, and socio-economic centers.

Other programs that received grants from 2016 ORB were the Diocese of Allentown, in the amount of $38,164.09 and Catholic Relief Services in the amount of $77,500.

Diocesan schools and programs that received funds include: Catholic Charities, $15,000; Bishop’s Charity Fund, $2,000; Sacred Heart School, Allentown, $ 3,739.84; Holy Infancy School, Bethlehem, $1,811.04; and St. Peter School, Reading, $4,449.12.