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 CNS Story:

LENT-ALMSGIVING Feb-24-2009 (810 words) With photos posted Feb. 6. xxxn

Catholic tradition of almsgiving gets special emphasis during Lent

By Chaz Muth
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Almsgiving is a practice in generosity expected from all Catholics, but the focus of it is even stronger during the season of Lent.

Mary Schultz of Exeter, N.H., told Catholic News Service she began to give a portion of her allowance to charitable causes from the time she was 10, and her parents increased her weekly fee for chores from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday so that she could donate even more money during Lent.

"I was told by my parents, my teachers and the priest at our church that it was even more important to give to the needy during Lent, because we were honoring the fact that Jesus sacrificed so much for us," said the 38-year-old mother of two young children.

"That has stayed with me all of these years and I think it's an important virtue and a way of celebrating our Catholicism," she said. "I'm teaching these same values to my children."

The Catholic Encyclopedia says almsgiving implies a material service rendered to the poor for Christ's sake.

Promoting almsgiving in the current economic climate, however, creates a challenge, but the need for charitable giving couldn't be greater this Lenten season, said Father William A. Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity and St. Patrick's churches in Owego, N.Y.

"Lent is a time for self-sacrifice and to be more aware of the poverty that exists in the world, so I'm hoping our parishioners will remember that during this year of economic turmoil, when so many people are in need," Father Moorby said.

"It's a lesson to our young people as well about compassion. It's not just about almsgiving, but it's educational and helps them develop spiritually during those 40 days of Lent," he said.

To drive that point home, both his parishes in the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., participate in Operation Rice Bowl, Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services' annual Lenten program.

Now in it's 34th year, Operation Rice Bowl allows Catholics in the U.S. to focus on almsgiving, self-sacrifice and people living in poverty all over the world, said Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services and a parishioner of St. Louis Church in Clarksville, Md.

"Each Lent, Catholic families, parishes and schools use symbolic rice bowls during the 40 days of Lent as the focal point for their prayer, fasting and learning," Hackett said about Operation Rice Bowl.

"Participants fast in solidarity with those who hunger and make the small sacrifice of preparing simple, meatless recipes from developing countries each week, putting the money they would have spent on a big meal into the rice bowls," he explained. "That money goes to support CRS' mission to fight global hunger."

In 2008, Catholics raised more than $7 million through Operation Rice Bowl, 75 percent of which was used to address hunger in 40 countries, he said.

The remaining 25 percent was given to U.S. dioceses to support programs -- like parish food pantries -- that help feed Americans affected by rising food prices, Hackett said.

"We've seen the need for that 25 percent arise in our community in the past year," Father Moorby said. "I'm hoping our parishioners recognize that this year when they participate in the program. It's not only almsgiving for people in foreign lands. It's going to help their neighbors in need too."

According to Creighton University's Online Ministries program, "Praying Lent 2009," practicing generosity is an important element of the 40-day season.

"Almsgiving has always been an important part of Lent," said the Web site of the university in Omaha, Neb., especially when it is mixed with the self-sacrifice that is prescribed for Catholics on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays leading up to Holy Saturday.

"It is important to give ourselves the experience of fasting from being ungenerous," the site said. "Generosity is not simply giving my excess clothes to a place where poor people might purchase them. It's not even writing a 'generous' check at the time a collection is taken up for a cause that benefits the poor. These are wonderful practices. Generosity is an attitude. It is a sense that no matter how much I have, all that I have is a gift and given to me to be shared."

Schultz, who attends St. Michael's Church in Exeter, said she stresses almsgiving to her children during Lent, because self-sacrifice is something they need to practice in order to incorporate it into their lives throughout the year.

"My hope is they will come to realize that material wealth isn't as important as making the world a better and safer place for everyone," she said. "I want my children to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem, and the season of Lent is a great opportunity for them to learn those lessons."


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