by Joe Ruff
OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) — The big parishes of the Omaha Archdiocese might well be expected to top contributions in any financial campaign in the archdiocese.
Well, almost any.
When it comes to Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl donations during Lent, a group of three, small parishes under the same pastor in the western reaches of the archdiocese has led the pack every year since fiscal 2010-11, dropping into the campaign’s cardboard boxes thousands of dollars that CRS uses to help fight poverty around the world. CRS is the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.
Last year alone, St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater, St. Peter de Alcantara Parish in Ewing and St. John the Baptist Parish in Deloit Township of rural Holt County, with a total of 608 people, collected $6,787, an average of $11 per parishioner and $2,262 per parish.
The second highest total was St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Humphrey, with $6,426 from 1,106 parishioners, or about $5.81 per parishioner.
“It’s kind of a personal thing for me,” said Father James Kramper, pastor of the three parishes since 2008. “Even as a young priest, I wasn’t good at fasting. I thought giving up something for Lent was negative.”
Then came CRS’ Rice Bowl initiative in 1975, an opportunity to give to others during Lent by encouraging people to place money in a small box and send what they collect to the U.S. bishops’ international relief organization, which provides emergency help and community-based sustainable development initiatives. Twenty-five percent of what is collected in each diocese stays in that diocese to help with local needs.
Last year, Rice Bowl collection efforts in the archdiocese totaled $55,271, and across the country more than 13,000 faith communities participated in the CRS campaign, www.crsricebowl.org.
“It (Rice Bowls) changed my whole outlook on Lent,” Father Kramper told the Catholic Voice, Omaha’s archdiocesan newspaper. “We give up something so we can give to others.”
That’s the message Father Kramper shares with his parishioners, in many different and creative ways. He asks for and publishes in his parish bulletin suggestions from parishioners about the best ways to “feed the Rice Bowl,” such as donating 10 percent of each paycheck; $1 for every movie a person watches; the cost of a weekly soda pop; 50 cents every time a Lenten resolution is broken; a quarter for every disrespectful “no”; and a penny for every point below 100 percent in a quiz.
He’s also been known to call teenagers on the telephone, saying, ‘”I just got a call, somebody’s Rice Bowl is starving. When did you last feed it?'”
Father Kramper is fun, encouraging and nonjudgmental, finding ways to involve everyone in all three parishes, said Sandy Moser, who helps teach religious education at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater.
She and her husband, Chris, their 15-year-old daughter, Alyssa, and 13-year-old son, Dillon, all have their own Rice Bowls and compete each year, she said.
“We put our names on it, and it becomes a competition, like ‘whose is heavier?'” she said. “Father Kramper has just lit a fire under everybody.”
And CRS officials have taken note.
Looking for a way to tell the CRS story in Nebraska, Teresa Dunbar, a Midwest relationship manager for CRS, contacted the archdiocese and learned about the top giving parishes. She and Kirtimayi Mishra, head of the CRS office in India, spoke at Masses Feb. 25-26 in all three parishes during a trip that also took them to larger cities, including Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa. They decided a five-hour drive from Des Moines to the Ewing area was merited, Dunbar said.
“It was predicated on the fact these three parishes do such a great job for CRS,” Dunbar said. CRS officials wanted “to celebrate and thank the parishes for their outstanding efforts.”
It also was an opportunity for CRS officials to be more present in the Midwest and in the archdiocese, Dunbar said. Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas, who is in his sixth year on the CRS board of directors, has expressed interest in helping to raise awareness of global needs, Dunbar said.
Omar Gutierrez, manager of the archdiocese’s Office of Missions and Justice and special assistant to the archbishop, said part of the recently articulated pastoral vision and priority plan for the archdiocese is helping others in spiritual and material ways — living mercy.
CRS’ work, the Rice Bowl effort and Father Kramper’s unique support of it, are examples of that mercy, Gutierrez said.
“Father Kramper is really passionate about what the Rice Bowl does,” he said. “He has this great principle, or ability, whenever the parish is doing something, everyone is involved. He makes it a communal effort.”
And Mishra had the opportunity to tell parishioners in Ewing, Clearwater and Deloit Township that people and families in India and elsewhere have support and are developing skills in many areas, including strengthening agriculture, improving health systems and recovering more quickly from flooding or other disasters, in part because of generous contributions people make to CRS Rice Bowl.
That generosity is “touching millions of people in need around the world,” Mishra said.
Father Kramper said he was grateful and pleased with the visit. “They did a wonderful job,” he said. “The people were very receptive.”
“We didn’t need a thank you,” Father Kramper said, “but we probably needed a better understanding of where the money goes. I think they helped us with that.”