On Dec. 10, 2013, Caritas Internationalis - a coalition of 164 charitable organizations, including Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, operating in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe - launched a campaign to end the "global scandal" of hunger by the year 2025.
This initiative is supported wholeheartedly by Pope Francis, who released a four-and-a-half-minute video message endorsing the campaign at the start of the effort.
Titled, "One Human Family, Food for All," the campaign was also inaugurated with a "wave of prayer," starting at noon on Dec. 10 on the island of Samoa, moving through countries around the world at noon in each local time zone and finishing 25 hours later when it again reached Samoa, having encircled the globe.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, stated that the goal of this global campaign against hunger is to eliminate the disgrace that, in a world which produces enough food for everyone, nearly one person in eight does not get enough to eat every day.
Lent is opportunity
I would suggest that the Lenten season, which began yesterday, provides us - individually and as a Church community, in conjunction with other denominations and charitable organizations - with this superb opportunity to reflect prayerfully upon the painful reality of widespread hunger, and to take steps to address this scandal aggressively and constructively.
Echoing this goal in an address to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization last June, Pope Francis stated that "a way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being."
The pope's clarion call is based upon two fundamental principles: first, the right to food is a human, legal and clearly defined right, which gives rise to obligations of governments to reduce both chronic undernourishment and malnutrition; and second, the right to food protects the right of all human beings to live in dignity, free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
The right to food is not about charity, but about ensuring that all people have the capacity to feed themselves in dignity.
In urging Catholics to join this endeavor, Cardinal Maradiaga called to mind the spiritual dimensions of this pressing issue. He noted, as the Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent describes, that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days to prepare Himself for His ministry of feeding the hungry, both physically and spiritually.
Jesus championed the poor, the hungry and the outcast to the extent of identifying Himself with them: "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat," He said; and, "Whatever you did for one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me" (Matthew 25). That is why Cardinal Maradiaga is able to exclaim that "every starving person brings us face to face with the agony of Jesus in person."
Indeed, throughout the course of salvation history, God has always showed interest in providing for our daily bread: from the offering of bread in the temple to the breaking of bread at Emmaus, from the manna of the Exodus to the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the Lord has always paid attention to human hunger.
When Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, it was also implied that we should share our daily bread with others and no longer accept the fact that people around us are deprived of food.
Further, Cardinal Maradiaga suggests that this campaign to end hunger "can also help us to rediscover and go deeper into the mystery of the Eucharist. The Lord left us this memorial - which He wanted to remain vitally present among us, so the symbols of bread and wine - for a reason.
"Since then, we cannot break the eucharistic bread or become communities who celebrate the Eucharist, the sacrament of communion and covenant, without doing our utmost to restore dignity to our brothers and sisters deprived of sufficient food. For the Eucharist is the expression par excellence of God's compassionate, merciful and redeeming love. Partaking of the Eucharist offers great strength for making the preferential option for the poor - not through a mere slogan, but through a concrete reality that engages us."
Make a list
Hopefully, then, the forthcoming Lenten season will provide us with the opportunity to grow spiritually by focusing on hunger. For example:
• We can give up dessert or some entertainment or engage in fast and abstinence, and contribute the money saved to Operation Rice Bowl, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, to the Regional Food Bank or to a parish food pantry.
• We can look to our own attitude to food and waste: What could we change? Maybe we could learn to eat with moderation and sufficient quantity and quality without becoming overweight.
• We can be in touch with the campaign to end hunger and its implementing strategies by checking out websites which provide practical and personal parish, diocesan, national and international efforts to eliminate hunger (see http://crs.org/hunger/).
• We can open our eyes, ears and hearts to understand the impact of hunger on the world. We can look at our own attitude toward food and waste and ask ourselves, "What could change?"
• We can involve ourselves with advocacy initiatives aimed at encouraging our own governmental representatives and those of other nations to vote for sound agricultural budgets and assistance to people faced with hunger and starvation.
• Finally, we must never underestimate the power of prayer. Thus, I would encourage us to recite daily the One Human Family, Food for All campaign prayer:
O God, you entrusted to us the fruits of all creation so that we might care for the earth and be nourished with its bounty.
You sent us your Son to share our very flesh and blood and to teach us your law of love. Through His death and resurrection, we have been formed into one human family.
Jesus showed great concern for those who had no food - even transforming five loaves and two fish into a banquet that served 5,000 and many more.
We come before you, O God, conscious of our faults and failures, but full of hope, to share food with all members in this global family.
Through your wisdom, inspire leaders of government and of business, as well as all the world's citizens, to find just and charitable solutions to end hunger by assuring that all people enjoy the right to food.
Thus we pray, O God, that when we present ourselves for divine judgment, we can proclaim ourselves as "One Human Family" with "Food for All." Amen.
(March 06, 2014)