Pope Francis can be a powerful leader in uniting all people and faiths in ending world hunger.
For any perceived differences that might exist among world religions and their followers certainly disappear when it comes down to the basic staple of food. Everyone on the planet needs access to food. The saving of human lives, the improvement of standards of living, and peacebuilding all rest first and foremost on food.
In 1920 when people were suffering from hunger in the aftermath of World War I, Pope Benedict XV praised a newly formed “European Relief Council” calling it “truly wonderful and providential” as it fed the hungry. The Pope said praised it “seeing that your work is not confined to any one people, but that it embraces all that are in need without distinction.”
This relief council had brought together organizations including the National Catholic Welfare Council and the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. When a famine struck Russia in 1921 these groups continued their relief work saving countless lives. Pope Benedict sent trainloads of food and rallied support to help the starving people.
After World War II churches served as collection points where people dropped off donations of food to be shipped overseas to starving people in Europe and Asia. There were many countries still suffering from the destruction of the war. The hungry were not forgotten.
Pope Pius XII said, “We must not allow death to engrave on millions of tombs of innocent children the tragic words of accusation: The little ones have asked for bread and there was no one to break it to them.” Around this time a new organization called Catholic Relief Services got its start.
The Pope embraced ingenuity in fighting hunger, whether it was the CARE package of food which people sent overseas or the Friendship Train. This was the train that crossed America during 1947 collecting food for the hungry in Europe, which helped fuel the reconstruction of a continent.
Pope Pius said when the food arrived in Italy, “Such a cheering contrast in the news of recent days has been the conception of the idea of a Friendship Train and its immediate and generous reception over the entire area of the United States, resulting in the donation of an impressively large quantity of foodstuffs destined and dispatched without delay for the relief of the hungry.”
Now today, the resources exist more than ever to help the 870 million people worldwide who are suffering. These are people starving in the war-affected areas of South Sudan and Sudan, in Syria, and other countries impacted by conflict, drought and poverty. They are small children, who because they cannot get nutrition early in life either perish or suffer lasting physical and mental damage. Many of these children can be saved if more resources and effort are dedicated to fighting hunger.
Last year, the director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, José Graziano da Silva, met with religious leaders trying to build unity in the fight against global hunger. There should be a shared commitment on the part of world religions to eradicate world hunger. The new Pope has the great opportunity to make this happen.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” Jesus called for the starving and poor to be fed and we each have the opportunity to carry out this mission every day. Hunger must not be a condition considered inevitable, not when we have the ability to end it. What is needed is the spirit and faith to win the struggle against man’s ancient enemy, hunger.