Father Jean Felicien, left, and Msgr. Sam Sirianni plate the Haitian dish Riz National they created together in the March 14 cooking series video they recorded in the St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral rectory’s kitchen for Catholic Relief Services. Mike Ehrmann photos
Father Jean Felicien, left, and Msgr. Sam Sirianni plate the Haitian dish Riz National they created together in the March 14 cooking series video they recorded in the St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral rectory’s kitchen for Catholic Relief Services. Mike Ehrmann photos
Throughout this Lenten season, the rectory kitchen in Freehold’s St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral has bustled with activity on alternate Mondays, acting as a production studio for a new series of cooking videos that feature simple, tasty, meatless recipes from around the world.

Hosted by the Co-Cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Sam Sirianni, the culinary adventure is presided over by some unlikely cooks: parish priests from parishes around the Trenton Diocese. They stepped up to the plate to prove that the recipes – gleaned from Catholic Relief Services’ annual Rice Bowl effort – result in dishes that are easy to prepare, cost-saving and set the table for worthwhile mealtime Lenten discussions.

On March 14, the cook was Father Jean Felicien who hails from Haiti, and the dish was Riz National – rice, kidney beans and a variety of spices – regarded as the most popular rice dish in Haiti according to internet sources. “The cooking videos are a good way to share cultures,” Father Felicien said during a break while the dish was baking. “I think it’s a good initiative.”

PHOTO GALLERY: March 14 Cooking Episode with Father Felicien and Msgr. Sirianni

“With this dish you have to enjoy rice and beans. In the region I come from, we do a lot of rice. … By the way, I’m not a great cook. I manage to do my best,” said Father Felicien, who is the parochial vicar of St. James Parish, Pennington, St. George Parish, Titusville, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell.

He managed deftly to compose all the ingredients while Brenda L. Rascher, who created and is producing the series and recording it with her cell phone, provided the commentary.

While cooking, he also shared insights about the ongoing struggles of the Haitian people to overcome the overwhelming hardships they have endured from natural disasters. Since 1998, Haiti has been battered by 10 hurricanes and other tropical storms and an earthquake in 2010 which inflicted great loss of life and property.

Throughout all these disasters, Father Felicien said, CRS was at hand “serving everyone.”

Global and Local

Ever since Catholic Relief Services launched its Rice Bowl initiative back in 1975, its Lenten focus has been on ways Catholics throughout the country can help their brothers and sisters around the globe overcome hunger and malnutrition. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving have been mainstays of the program from the beginning. And since 2014, the journey has also included recipes from the CRS Global Kitchen.

Rascher, who is diocesan executive director of Catholic Social Services, described the weekly series as global and local with three of the recipes prepared by diocesan priests alternating with three videos from the worldwide Catholic community. The series link is https://dioceseoftrenton.org/catholic-social-services, with a new episode launching each Wednesday.

The diocesan Department of Multimedia Productions, which is editing the episodes and posting them to the Diocese of Trenton YouTube channel, reported that the first local video, which aired on March 9, garnered more than 400 hits shortly after it went up. The numbers built steadily day-by-day with some 1,495 on Facebook alone and still increasing.

Msgr. Sirianni, who assists with the cooking, commentary and cleanup, said many factors go into the rising numbers. “In these days, people want to know how to cook and ‘star chefs’ receive a lot of interest, including the priests who are cooking on television,” said Msgr. Sirianni, noting Msgr. James Vlaun of Catholic Faith TV’s “Real Food” who consistently brings faith and family into the kitchen.

Rascher pointed to Father Leo Patalinghug, who created and hosts CRS Global Kitchen and EWTN’s “Savoring Our Faith.” She recognized his easygoing manner, friendly countenance and way with food, family and faith when Global Kitchen first aired. “I thought about it for a couple of years,” said Rascher.

When the newly formed CRS Chapter of the Trenton Diocese got underway last fall, the possibility of a cooking show to reach the faithful during this year’s CRS Rice Bowl project emerged and members of the new chapter gave the idea a thumbs up.

Rascher, Msgr. Sirianni and Father Felicien all spoke of how important the CRS programs are to those in countries facing non-stop destruction from a range of issues, including poverty, famine, weather conditions and, in the case of Ukraine and other nations now, war.

“Many people don’t know the impact that giving to CRS has around the world, [and] how it benefits so many facets of society,” from nutrition to health to education, Rascher said. “Even in countries where the United States is not held in high esteem, the impact of CRS is amazing.” She offered the example of a poverty-stricken village she learned of that is are beset by gangs who told mothers that if their sons would join up, they’d have plenty of food.

Because CRS was there, she said, “there was food, and the children didn’t have to participate.”

“CRS does good work, a lot of work,” said Father Felicien. “Helping to show the importance of the way CRS helps with food and water,” through the video, he said, “is the least I can do.”

And CRS recognizes the work and enthusiasm that went into getting the series underway, said Maria Isabel Barbosa, Relationship Manager with Catholic Relief Services, calling it a “wonderful reflection of our global Church.”

“In this Lenten time, it allows us to be one with our brothers and sisters overseas as we pray, fast and offer alms,” she said. “Having priests from different countries prepare the recipes and share the stories” of their homelands is a “beautiful way to celebrate the universal Church.”