Bishop da Cunha prepares meatless Lenten meal 
at Sister Rose House for CRS’ Rice Bowl challenge

By Kenneth J. Souza

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — During Lent, the familiar cardboard Rice Bowl is a gentle reminder that we are all called to not only give up certain things as a sacrifice, but also to give out to those in need as part of almsgiving.

The idea is that the money saved from not buying and serving meat can be put in the bowl to benefit the hungry and poor.

The Rice Bowl initiative is the Lenten program of Catholic Relief Services, the official relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Through CRS’ Rice Bowl, faith communities in every diocese throughout the United States put their faith into action through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

This year, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., accepted the “Rice Bowl Challenge” to prepare one of several meatless ethnic dishes that CRS offered on its website. The bishop opted to cook a dish called Batar Da’an from East Timor at the Sister Rose House in New Bedford, a shelter which also provides meals in its downstairs kitchen.

“It’s basically vegetables, rice, beans, and I think it’s a combination of Portuguese and Pico-Asian style food,” Bishop da Cunha explained. “East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975, and then they became part of Indonesia. In 2002 they became an independent country. So I’m hoping this is going to be a good dish. To tell you the truth, I’ve never tried it before, so this will be my first time preparing it and I’m looking forward to sharing it with some of our guests today for lunch.”


Held on March 21, the event was streamed live via the Facebook page of the Fall River Diocese and the bishop cooked the meal in anticipation of the noontime lunch at the facility. More than 100 people enjoyed the bishop’s cooking that day.

“The Sister Rose House is one of the diocese’s shelters for the homeless,” said Claire McManus, diocesan coordinator for Operation Rice Bowl and director of Faith Formation. “But during lunchtime it is open to the general public, so we should have a pretty good crowd coming in here.”

McManus said this year’s “Rice Bowl Challenge” was started to bring greater awareness to CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl and the charitable efforts it supports.

“What we’re doing today is we’re trying to raise awareness, and we’re going to challenge people from around the diocese and around the country to also take part and cook a meal,” McManus said. “All you have to do is go on the website ( and it has Lenten recipes and you can cook one of these meatless meals for your family. I would challenge everyone to do what Bishop da Cunha is doing.”

While most people are familiar with the Rice Bowl as a means of collecting money for the poor and hungry, McManus said the outreach is much more extensive.

“Every year, I’m sure you’re used to seeing those little cardboard rice bowls at the back of the church,” McManus said. “In addition to collecting spare change, they have a lot of things that you can do during Lent to live in solidarity with the people in the countries that are served by Operation Rice Bowl.”

She explained that Operation Rice Bowl was started by a priest in Pennsylvania who “wanted to teach his parishioners about the plight of people around the world who go hungry.”

“So he started this little fundraiser and it spiraled into a major (initiative) for CRS,” she said. “The Diocese of Fall River has taken part in it for many, many years, and the best part about it is the money that is raised through Operation Rice Bowl, 75 percent goes to CRS, but 25 percent of it stays right here in the diocese and is used to serve some of our own hunger needs.”

McManus said that money is allocated to Catholic Social Services and is used to fund diocesan soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters such as the Sister Rose House.

An avid gardener, Bishop da Cunha relished the experience of cooking a vegeterian meal that also reminded him of some of the recipes from his native Brazil.

“Most of our meals in Brazil have beans, rice, vegetables, and meat,” the bishop said. “That’s really the basic ingredients for most of the Brazilian meals. Of course, today we are leaving out the meat, but we pretty much have everything else.”

“That’s the basis of the Rice Bowl,” McManus added. “You cook a meatless meal, and the money that you might have spent on meat, you put it into the Rice Bowl. That’s how we build up all those quarters and dimes that add up to thousands of dollars to help the homeless and hungry.”

Lenten alms donated through Operation Rice Bowl support the work of CRS in roughly 45 different countries each year. Since its inception in 1975, CRS’ Operation Rice Bowl has raised nearly $300 million.


1 bag frozen corn

1 can red kidney beans, drained

1 butternut squash, cut into small pieces

3 cups water

1 large onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbsp fair trade olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cooked rice

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until tender. Add water and squash, and increase heat until water is simmering. Add corn and kidney beans, reduce to medium heat, and cook (stirring occasionally) until squash is tender (15-20 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice.

Makes 4 servings.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts