By Barb Arland-Fye
We’ve wandered away from the Gospel when we allow starvation to occur anywhere in the world while many of us in the United States battle the bulge because of plentiful food at cheap prices.
Two contrasting articles that appeared in the Quad-City Times last week illustrate the point. One story reports that 36 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in the U.S. are obese while nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. Another story, published two days later, says about one in seven Americans — 45 million people rely on food stamps to prevent them from going hungry. The article quoted adults who reluctantly turned to food assistance because, as one unemployed worker said: “It’s either that or I die.”
People don’t have that choice in east Africa. They’re dying from lack of or inability to access food. That’s not the only place people go hungry. This week’s Catholic Messenger includes a story about the indigenous Tarahumara in Mexico severely impacted by the worst drought in 70 years. Food produced in that region is expected to run out during February.
We would do well to ponder and then act on the words of the bishops of New Jersey, who issued a letter in November on poverty in their state. The bishops noted: “The Church’s concern for the poor is inspired by the Gospel and Jesus’ unequivocal command. Jesus teaches us that the sure way to find Him is to serve the poor, the hungry, the ill, and the stranger … His command to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to heal the sick and care for the poor is no less relevant today than it was 2,000 years ago.”
The bishops were reacting to a U.S. Census Bureau report that more than 49 million Americans (16 percent of the population), live in poverty, and that in 2009 more than 799,000 New Jersey residents had incomes so low that they could not make ends meet and required food stamps to survive.
Reminding readers that “Scripture calls us to act with courage, generosity, justice and love,” the bishop proposed an Agenda for Action that would engage individuals, churches, synagogues, mosques, government and the private sector in changing structures that impede the poor from gaining self-sufficiency.
To jumpstart the effort, the New Jersey Catholic Conference with cooperation from Catholic Charities agencies plan to convene four task forces to focus on critical issues impacting poverty: the weakening of family life, failing education systems, unemployment and low-paying jobs, and unavailable affordable housing. The bishops would provide oversight through an advisory council of respected leaders.
We’re not suggesting Iowa and New Jersey share the same problems, but the Lord hears the cry of the poor in Iowa as well as in New Jersey, Africa and other parts of the world. We followers of Christ — with the means to help others in our back yards and beyond — have a moral obligation to practice what social justice champion Msgr. Marvin Mottet of our Davenport Diocese identified as the two feet of social justice. That means not only donating to charitable causes, but taking action to bring about change so that all people may sit at the table and eat. Let’s get back to reflecting on the Gospel and what it is calling each of us to do, whether that is writing letters to Congress, participating in the political process or working in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.