Assumption B.V.M. of Slatington Offers Lenten Community Meal Raising Funds for Rice Bowl

From a quaint church in Slatington comes an extraordinary penitential meal and offering to Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl each Lenten season. Every Wednesday of Lent, the Altar and Rosary Society of Assumption B.V.M. prepares a Lenten Community Meal at 6 p.m., with Stations of the Cross immediately following at 7 p.m. led by Father Eric Arnout, pastor.

Smiling amid handing individuals their bowl of soup, Gina Gabriel, president of the Altar and Rosary Society, stops to talk and share the joy she experiences while preparing and serving the simple meal of soup, bread, and a choice dessert to the community amid Lent. After the meal, she enjoys how Father Arnout exposes the monstrance and provides a different booklet for Stations of the Cross weekly, leaving the congregation to reflect on Christ’s suffering uniquely each time.

While Gina Gabriel noted that attendance has dwindled over the years for Lenten meals, an event like this continues to be an exceptional way to fill the call to “pray, fast, and give alms.” The dinner is simple, but that is the point. Parishioners donate the food, and it acts as penitential almsgiving, as 100% of the donation goes to charitable needs of the Church through an initiative called "Rice Bowl" – originally started by Monsignor Robert Coll of the Diocese of Allentown.

"Operation Rice Bowl" started in 1975 and quickly became an international program after Monsignor Coll presented his idea to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1976. Currently, Catholic Relief Services oversees the operation of Rice Bowl, and the Diocese of Allentown has raised over $6 million from all its parishes and schools since the project’s founding.

Dave Getz brings his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren with him every week when he serves meals and assists Father Arnout in preparing for Stations of the Cross. "Stations and soup coincide," said Getz. "They go with each other." He finds it fitting that an almsgiving meal is paired with prayer. It is a wholly ordinary meal and event with profound spiritual opportunities if received with the proper disposition of the heart and mind.

While the attendance is sparse at times, one can be reminded of the words of Mother Teresa, who once took the opportunity to visit St. Thomas More, Allentown to honor the founding of Rice Bowl, "We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful." Those who show up to serve and be served, pray, and assist in prayer, are ordinary people called to an extraordinary feat. Mere coins make a difference in the lives of those around us, and prayer sustains our world.

Here in America, we are surrounded by opportunities for instant foods, meals delivered to our doorsteps, and a lack of understanding of fasting, as many people reject suffering. Lent is a time when we can humble ourselves, return to simplicity, and recognize the importance of participating in the life of the Church.

Father Arnout and the Altar and Rosary Society hope that others will join them in this simple occasion to fulfill the call to "praying, fasting, and almsgiving" this Lent and stop by each Wednesday at 6 p.m. to participate in their Lenten Community Meal, Stations of the Cross, and Benediction.

Photo: Rachel and Carmen Azzaro and their children Leo and Sophia.


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