Millions of people in our world began this day with empty stomachs, knowing from the moment they awoke that they would somehow need to scrounge up a few morsels of food to keep their families fed and to have enough strength to go about the day.
As a member of Catholic Relief Services’ Board of Directors, I was invited in 2010 to travel to Central Africa to get a firsthand look at the humanitarian work of CRS. The images were striking – a mix of breathtaking vistas and stark poverty. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, I saw people lining the streets, selling whatever they could to earn money to feed their families. In Burundi, 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line.
Hunger continues to be a scandalous sin on the soul of humankind, and it is a tragic reality in Maine, too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nearly 15 percent of households in Maine, nearly 200,000 people, were food insecure in 2010, which means they didn’t have enough food at all times to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle for all household members. Among those found to be at greater risk are children and adults in low-income families, persons with disabilities, the elderly, those living in rural regions and in the inner cities of our urban centers.
The challenge is very real, and not far away. I am grateful to all of the good people who are so committed to responding to the scourge of hunger. I think of the Food Bank operated by Catholic Charities Maine up in Aroostook County, which served more than 37,600 people in 2010, of St. Mary’s Food Pantry in Lewiston which serves 200 families each week, of Catherine’s Cupboard in Standish, which distributed 1656 boxes of food last year, and of the hot lunch program served by the St. Vincent de Paul Society at the Cathedral in Portland. There are also the many parish food pantries throughout the diocese, and our Catholic schools with their special food collections. In all of these instances and more, disciples of the Lord are reaching out to sisters and brothers who are forced to depend on others for their daily bread.
Yet food pantries and soup kitchens, as critically important as they are, are not enough. They respond to the immediate hunger of people, but do not touch the root of the problem. When one considers the resources of the United States alone, it is impossible to comprehend why the scourge of starvation continues, why millions of people worldwide go to bed and wake up every day with growling stomachs and, worse, the sickness consequent to malnourishment. There is a profound systemic problem to be solved.
We Catholics are reminded of the reality of hunger and the need to be fed whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. Eucharist, source and summit of Christian life, is meal as well as memorial and sacrifice. God satisfies our hungry hearts with gift of finest wheat. As we prepare at each Mass to receive the Eucharistic Lord under the appearances of bread and wine, may we be reminded of our sacred obligation respond to the hungers of so many around us. When we say “amen” as the Body of Christ is shared with us, we are saying “amen” we well to our responsibility to respond to the Christ who gazes at us, hungry, in the faces of all those who go though every day wondering where they will find food to keep them going.
We would do well to remember the admonition of St. John of the Cross: “When the evening of this life comes, we will be judged on love.”
Bishop Richard J. Malone, Th.D.
11th Bishop of Portland