The creative and generous response of parishioners has led to the largest collection in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for CRS Rice Bowl.

The tally for the long-running Lenten collection to benefit Catholic Relief Services reached $426,773 for 2023, up 14% from last year.

Since 1977 CRS Rice Bowl has raised awareness of hunger both locally and globally through the initiative that empowers ordinary people to make a donation and show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in need.

While 75% of the collection is utilized by CRS – the U.S. Catholic bishops’ official overseas aid agency – 25% stays local for needs in the Philadelphia community, supported by archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services.

The annual collection encourages families to make monetary sacrifices along with prayer and fasting during Lent.

Traditionally CRS Rice Bowl collects between $340,000 and $395,000 from up to 200 parishes, schools and institutions in the archdiocese participating each year.

The unprecedented figure this year is the result of extraordinary generosity from two CRS chapters in the archdiocese, St. Denis Parish in Havertown and Camilla Hall, the residence for retired Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata.

St. Denis Parish “collected the single largest donation in Rice Bowl history: $33,500,” according to Anne Ayella, CRS director for the archdiocese.

The parishioners were encouraged to donate $1 for each of the 40 days of Lent, “and the result was amazing,” she said.

She credits the always-strong support of CRS Rice Bowl “to the support of many new Catholic Relief Services chapters” emerging in the archdiocese. 

“CRS chapters are communities of people taking meaningful action to eradicate global poverty and injustice,” Ayella explained. 

The parishioners of St. Denis and the sisters at Camilla Hall “did an amazing job of sharing Rice Bowl stories and the profound impact that compassion and generosity have on our global and local brothers and sisters living in poverty,” she said.

Each Lent CRS offers stories of how lives are impacted by the agency’s work around the world. This year’s focus was on communities in Honduras, the Philippines and Kenya.

St. Denis Parish was seeking an intentional, concrete way to respond to the call to charity during Lent, and to do so with humility, according to the pastor, Father Kevin Gallagher.

Rice Bowl “was a great way for us to give thanks for the blessings we have received and respond in gratitude and mercy to those in need,” he said.

Members of the parish’s CRS group spoke at all parish Masses and the initiative was promoted throughout Lent.  

“It was very well received and the people were very generous,” Father Gallagher said. “The slogan – a Dollar a Day for Lent – was catchy but also practical.”

Considering how much money one may typically spend in the course of a day, the proposal to sacrifice one dollar was humbling, the priest said, adding that almsgiving ought to be “practiced with humility.”

Edward Town, a third theology seminarian of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary serving at St. Denis, noted that the expression of generosity in Lent is now critical in support of Catholic Relief Services’ work “to prevent a dire humanitarian situation in the Holy Land from becoming a catastrophe.”

“It was similarly horrific events in Ukraine and Afghanistan that were the impetus for our parish chapter’s most generous support of the CRS Rice Bowl campaign. We know that when governments, diplomats and corporations leave war-torn areas, CRS stays.”

CRS embodies the Catholic Church throughout the world, he said, and the agency “witnesses to the truth that God never abandons anyone.”

The CRS chapter at St. Denis, Town said, is building on the momentum of last spring’s success, in particular contacting representatives in Congress to support threatened government funding for international humanitarian assistance.

“We know that as our brothers and sisters in Christ grapple with issues arising from climate, Covid, conflict and costs, global hunger is becoming a more urgent crisis in East Africa and other parts of our world. 

“We rejoice in knowing that the funds we raised during Lent will have a very real impact in alleviating their suffering as we continue our mission of creating a more just world!”