Local Catholics encouraged to join fight against global hunger

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Laborers carry bags of wheat to the top of roof-high stacks at a warehouse operated by Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission in Shinile, Ethiopia, Feb. 9, 2019. Acute hunger is expected to double in vulnerable populations because of the coronavirus pandemic. CRS launched an advocacy campaign May 14 to raise awareness about the world’s hungriest people. (CNS Photo/Will Baxter, Catholic Relief Services)

Chicago-area Catholics are joining Catholic Relief Services in their efforts to “Lead the Way” on global hunger, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anyone can join this campaign,” said Beth Knobbe, community engagement manager for CRS’ Midwest office. Catholic Relief Services is the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency.

The campaign kicked off with “Nine Days of Action” starting May 16, during the weeklong observation of the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

The actions, which included everything from praying and planting seeds to encouraging members of Congress to include international food aid in the next coronavirus relief package. Those and other ideas are available on the campaign web page,

People who want to be more involved can become part of a CRS chapter, Knobbe said. The Archdiocese of Chicago has a young professionals chapter that usually meets at Old St. Patrick’s Parish, 200 W. Adams St., and a chapter mostly made up of parishioners from Old St. Mary’s Parish, 1500 S. Michigan Avenue and St. James Parish, 2907 S. Wabash Ave. People need not be members of those parishes to join the chapters.

DePaul University and Dominican University in River Forest host student chapters.

Members of two parish-based CRS chapters and two university chapters have been meeting online to educate themselves about hunger and come up with ways to not only help, but inspire others to help as well, Knobbe said.

“The chapters are for people who are looking for a greater level of commitment and deeper level of engagement.” Knobbe said. “They are communities of people seeking to educate themselves about these issues with the help of CRS staff, and then seek to educate and inspire others through events or activities like letter-writing campaigns.”

“This is really a movement-building effort,” she said. “Our hope is to build this surge of concerned Catholics from all around the United States who are concerned about these issues, Catholics who are concerned about the needs of the poor around the world and are moved to take action to make life better.”

The need for their efforts is urgent. The pandemic is likely to nearly double the number of hungry people in the world, from 135 million to 265 million by the end of the year, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said hunger is a “shadow pandemic” that accompanies the COVID-19 crisis, even in the United States, where demand at food banks has skyrocketed.

“It’s the same in the rest of the world,” he said.

People who cannot work have no income with which to purchase food, and in some cases disruptions in the transportation network mean food is not available in shops. People in some countries served by CRS have been unable to obtain seeds for the spring planting season, he said.

CRS is asking Catholics who want to participate in Lead the Way to call their congressional delegates and ask them to include $12 billion for international food aid in a coronavirus relief bill that is expected to come with a price tag in the trillions.

“It’s a tiny percentage,” he said.

Lead the Way supporters also can make a donation directly to CRS’ hunger programs — “A small donation is just as welcome as large one,” Callahan said — and ask their friends and loved ones to do the same.

Responding now is the only way to stop the ongoing crisis that will be caused by denying nearly 150 million children adequate nutrition.

“If we do not provide food for the 145 million children who are acutely malnourished, they don’t have the opportunity to develop,” Callahan said. “That’s against everything that we are as Catholics. This is also an assault on human dignity and families. It is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen in my career at CRS.”

Daniel Mumuni, CRS’ chief of party for the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program in Sierra Leone, has seen the effects firsthand. He and his staff are travelling the countryside, delivering packages of food to students and teachers who normally would receive meals at school.

“On a given day we feed 50,000 school children,” Mumuni said. “Ninety percent come without breakfast, and they have no guarantee of dinner. We feed them and they have the opportunity to learn and become something for the future.”

With schools closed because of the pandemic, the food must be taken to the families.

“Hunger is not really just the absence of food,” he said. “It’s the absence of food plus every other thing that comes with it.”

That includes the ability to plan and work for the future. Some families, he said, have put children into early marriages simply because they cannot feed them.

“For us as Christians, Catholics, as people of faith, we are commissioned by what we profess every day to be our brother’s keeper, to care for others and to feed the poor,” Mumuni said. “Christ himself said, ‘When I was hungry, you gave me food.’”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a CRS board member, said that by providing food and the materials for people to grow their own food, CRS supports their human dignity.

“It seems to me at this critical time that CRS’ Lead the Way on Hunger campaign is working for the common good and upholding dignity,” he said. “We believe that each life, no matter how vulnerable, is precious.”


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