By Barb Arland-Fye
Religious leaders in the Quad-Cities hoping to focus attention on the famine in East Africa distributed news stories of human suffering that make my heart ache.
One story told of a father in Somalia quietly carrying the body of his 3-year-old daughter, a victim of starvation, outside of the makeshift hospital where she died. After reading this and other famine-related stories, I opened The Little Blue Book for Advent and Christmas seasons. The devotional asks six minutes of my time each day to reflect on the Gospel readings, the role of Mary in the Church and short, faith-related stories.
Based on the writings of the late Bishop Ken Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., the booklet encourages me to include several plans for observing Advent. These include spiritual, practical, personal and charitable activities — all of which brought my attention back to the famine in East Africa. The Diocese of Davenport, as part of the universal Catholic Church, helped bring our attention to this humanitarian tragedy and encouraged us to donate to Catholic Relief Services. This Advent, it seems my reflections need to focus on alleviating pain and suffering in Africa as well as at home.
An interfaith initiative publicized last month reinforced the call to action. Rabbi Henry Karp of Temple Emanuel in Davenport and the Rev. Ron Quay, executive director of Churches United of the Quad City Area, organized this effort that brought together religious leaders of different faiths who might not otherwise come together. Sixty-one clergy members in the Quad Cities — including Bishop Martin Amos and several priests of the Davenport Diocese — signed a statement of solidarity promoting awareness of and response to the crisis. In the statement, they said:
“… No matter how different our theologies may be, each of our faith traditions demands of us that we live lives of compassion and mercy, serving our faiths by serving others, especially those who are greatly in need … We stand united in our deep personal and spiritual concerns for the starving victims of the severe drought in East Africa. This is that area’s worst drought in decades. It has devastated the lives of over 12 million people living in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, and other parts of East Africa. That is a number equal to the population of the state of Illinois and four times the population of Iowa. More than 400,000 people from Somalia have fled to refugee camps in Kenya, with 1,300 to 1,500 more people arriving daily. 80 percent of these refugees are women and children. 4,000-5,000 of them are unaccompanied minors. As a result, the populations of these camps are approximately four times greater than that for which they were originally constructed.”
In addition to the general statement, faith leaders issued separate, shorter statements and also provided a list of relief agencies taking donations for East Africa (see list below). “Starvation such as occurring in Africa is the result of human failure and that we are called to change,” Rev. Quay from the American Baptist Churches said in his statement. He quoted from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Msgr. Marvin Mottet also cited Matthew 25 and noted that “Catholic Social Teaching reiterates the ‘option for the poor’ and ‘solidarity with the poor,’ as Jesus taught and practiced.”
Rabbi Karp felt heartened by all of the clergy members’ call to action. “This has been the most extensive interfaith effort I’ve ever seen in my 26 years in the community,” he told me. “When was the last time we saw Evangelical Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, and mainline Protestants of many denominations all agreeing on something and standing together to do something positive?”
He hopes the public responds by donating to relief agencies striving to help ease the famine and the suffering of East Africans. “We’re pushing for clergy to keep it alive in their churches, synagogues, mosques …” Rabbi Karp said.
“For me as a Jew,” he continued, “when we turn a deaf ear and blind eye to what’s going on in East Africa, it echoes to what happened in the Holocaust, when so many turned a blind eye to what was happening to the Jews. If we become proactive, we can save millions of lives.”
And for me as a Catholic, I feel called this Advent to pray, reflect, donate and strive to bring about change in my own little corner of the world to help effect justice in the greater world.
Here is a list of relief agencies clergy members from An Interfaith Call to Action provided to help alleviate the suffering of people in East Africa:
• Bread for the World (800) 82-BREAD, 425 3rd St. SW, Suite 1200, Washington, D.C., 20024
• CARE (800) 521-CARE or (800) 521-2273, Care.org
• Catholic Relief Services, Attn: East Africa Emergency Fund P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD, 21203-7090
• Church World Service, www.churchworldservice.org, (800) 297-1516
• Episcopal Relief and Development, http://www.er-d.org./ (855) 321-HEAL
• International Committee of the Red Cross http://www.icrc. org/eng/, 1100 River Dr., Moline, Ill., 61265 (309) 743-2166
• Lutheran World Relief, 700 Light St., Baltimore, MD, 21230 (888) 747-7440 or mercycycorps.org
• Mercy-USA for Aid and Development, Inc., (800) 556-3729 or mercyusa.org
• Oxfam America, 226 Causeway St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02114, Oxfamamerica.org
• Samaritan’s Purse, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, N.C., 28607 (828) 262-1980
• Unicef, (800) FOR-KIDS, 125 Maiden Lane, New York, N.Y. 10038, unicefusa.org
• Union for Reform Judaism (Att: Africa Relief), 633 Third Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017
• Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSCC) (617) 868-6600, 689 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass., 02139-3302 http://www.uusc.org/east_africa_crisis
•World Vision, (866) 730-3919, P.O. Box 9716 Federal Way, WA, 98063-9716, worldvision.org