A Lenten prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours serves as a call to action in our suffering world as we enter Holy Week. “Father in heaven, the love of your Son led him to accept the suffering of the cross that his brothers might glory in new life. Change our selfishness into self-giving. Help us to embrace the world you have given us, that we may transform the darkness of its pain into the life and joy of Easter.”
An autocrat’s appetite for power led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine more than a month ago, resulting in a humanitarian crisis that is spreading misery worldwide. In addition to causing the deaths of thousands of citizens and soldiers, forcing millions to flee their Ukrainian homeland, and destroying cities, the invasion is ramping up hunger in the Horn of Africa and other parts of the world.
Russia and Ukraine, together, “account for a quarter of global wheat exports,” DowntoEarth website reports. “African countries imported agricultural products worth $4 billion from Russia in 2020 … About 90 percent of this was wheat, and 6 percent was sunflower oil.”
The Russian Federation or Ukraine or both countries “ranked amongst the top three global exporters of wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds and sunflower oil,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported. The “Russian Federation also stood as the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizers and the second leading supplier of both potash and phosphorus fertilizers” (FAO, 2022).
A protracted war creates uncertainty regarding Ukraine’s exports of grains and vegetable oils and even its ability to harvest its crops. The same uncertainty affects Russian export prospects, in part because of the economic sanctions imposed on Russia. The FAO noted, “Wheat is a staple food for over 35 percent of the world’s population…”
Horn of Africa countries, already struggling because of the worst drought in 40 years, conflict and other challenges are suffering mightily. “The Horn of Africa is experiencing the driest conditions recorded since 1981, with severe drought leaving an estimated 13 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia facing severe hunger in the first quarter of this year,” the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned (Feb. 22, 2022).
Writing for Pax Christi, activist Kathy Kelly wrote about the desperate situation of war-torn Yemen. She quoted Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council who said, “The people of Yemen need the same level of support and solidarity that we’ve seen for the people of Ukraine. The crisis in Europe will dramatically impact Yemenis’ access to food and fuel, making an already dire situation even worse.” Yemen imports more than 35% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. “Since the onset of the Ukraine conflict, we have seen the prices of food skyrocket by more than 150%,” said Basheer Al Selwi, a spokesman for the International Commission of the Red Cross in Yemen. “Millions of Yemeni families don’t know how to get their next meal.”
Other importers of wheat from Ukraine and Russia — Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Indonesia, are struggling with the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well.
Our world is complex and interconnected and, as Pope Francis said April 2 during his visit to Malta, “global problems require global solutions” (Catholic News Service, April 2, 2022).
• All global solutions must begin and be rooted in prayer. Pope Francis’ Act of Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is an excellent prayer on which to reflect (https://tinyurl.com/2xf3jwj6). Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours is another great source for prayer and inspiration and is available online or for purchase. Also, reflect on the daily Scripture readings (https://bible.usccb.org/readings/calendar).
• Support CRS Rice Bowl. Through Catholic Relief Service’s CRS Rice Bowl, families learn about how people across the globe overcome hardships such as hunger and malnutrition. Donations to CRS Rice Bowl help provide lifesaving support to more than 140 million people in more than 100 countries. Seventy-five percent of our donations support the work of CRS around the world and 25% stays in our diocese to alleviate hunger and poverty here. Check with your parish for more information and visit the CRS website (crsricebowl.org).
• Avoid wasting food. Buy only what you need and will use. Make good use of leftovers. Rotate boxes and cans of nonperishable food items in your cupboards to avoid having to throw away food long past expiration date. Visit the website stopfoodwaste.org for more information about expiration dates and the ways in which to prevent food waste. We waste 40% of all food in the United States, according to Stopfoodwaste.org, and that is a sin.
• Offer to serve a meal at a local church or other gathering space that feeds the hungry. Help stock or provide items for your community’s food pantry. Prepare or purchase a meal for a family or individuals in need.
• Stay informed about the crisis in Ukraine with reliable news sources such as Catholic News Service (catholicnews.com), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org) and The Catholic Messenger.
We have no instant solutions to the world crisis, no technological fixes. We have our Christian faith, which calls us to transform the darkness of the world’s pain into the life and joy of Easter.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor