Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Corporal Works of Mercy: How Catholics Find Creative Ways to Make the Word Flesh

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Corporal Works of Mercy: How Catholics Find Creative Ways to Make the Word Flesh

Article excerpt

FOOD SERVICE

Matthew 25:35 says, "For I was hungry and you gave me food. "In the final installment of a series on the corporal works of mercy, U.S. CATHOLIC looks at how modern Christians feed the hungry.

Anyone at all familiar with scripture can't escape the call to feed the hungry. We read about Yahweh providing manna for the Israelites in the desert after their flight from Egypt. We learn that Jesus regularly shared meals with his friends and once turned a few loaves and fishes into a feast for a crowd.

Today many U.S. Catholics, nourished physically and spiritually with the Body and Blood of Christ at each Mass, say they are trying to live out this mandate to meet the needs at the close of the 20th century.

They are distributing free groceries and serving hot meals at parish food pantries and soup kitchens. They are forging relationships between farmers and city dwellers to strengthen community food security. They are advocating for just public policies that consider the needs of the poorest of the poor both at home and abroad.

"The problem of hunger has a special significance for those who read the scriptures and profess the Christian faith," the U.S. bishops wrote in their 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All. "From the Lord's command to feed the hungry, to the Eucharist we celebrate as the bread of life, the fabric of our faith demands that we be creatively engaged in sharing the food that sustains life. There is no more basic human need."

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference, based in Des Moines, Iowa, is addressing this complex issue at its source: the farmers who produce our grains, produce, and meat and poultry.

Building on the bishops' call for ensuring the survival of small farmers in an age of large corporate agribusinesses, the organization is promoting direct links between producers and consumers. This is especially crucial amid news of large-scale chicken, meat, and produce contamination both in the United States and Europe, notes NCRLC executive director Brother David Andrews, C.S.C. "If you want good quality food and to know where it comes from, it pays to have a relationship with a local producer," he says.

Diocesan and parish programs around the country focus on feeding the poor at risk of hunger, Andrews says. But he stresses that entire communities also can be at risk when residents are dependent on food trucked in from miles away.

He cites the 1993 Midwest floods as an example: "We were within days of local communities being without food because of the shortage of trains and [other] transportation crossing rivers."

Invested interests

U.S. Catholics on the national as well as diocesan and parish level are also tackling hunger issues with phone calls, letters, and personal visits to Congress, state legislatures, and international bodies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. They are seeking to change some of the conditions blamed for pushing individuals and families into poverty and risk of hunger.

One of the most recent campaigns, which takes its inspiration from the Old Testament concept of jubilee, has been the call for debt relief for some of the world's most impoverished nations. Pope John Paul II has been addressing the topic since 1994, and the U.S. bishops issued their own plea for a "jubilee call for debt forgiveness" in a statement last April.

With interest on loans accumulated over a couple of decades, "there is little left over for investment in people" and their food, shelter, health care, and education, says Barbara Kohnen, an adviser to the U.S. bishops on international, economic, and human-rights issues. "We've reached a point where we must do something if we want a future for these impoverished nations."

The U.S. Catholic Conference has produced an educational kit on international debt and the call for debt forgiveness that is being distributed to parishes, educators, and activists. …

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