December 18, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: We must feed the hungry

John F. Fink(Fourth in a series of columns)

Quite naturally, Pope Benedict XVI devotes space in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) to the problem of hunger in many poor countries.

It is a problem, of course, that has always been with us, and we can’t help but feel sorry for all those, especially children, who continue in our modern age to die from starvation.

The pope lays down some principles that we must keep in mind as we strive for the elimination of world hunger, a problem that, in our global era, has become a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet.

He says that we must cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination. These rights, he says, have an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life.

He references the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, in which Christ tells us that feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty are requirements for those who will be saved at the end of the world.

Feeding the hungry is an ethical imperative for the universal Church, he says, as she responds to the teachings of her founder. We must share our goods with those less fortunate.

There is enough food in the world. What is missing, the pope says, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water. In times of real food crises, whether due to natural causes like droughts or storms, or due to political irresponsibility, these institutions must be able to address people’s needs and see that they’re taken care of.

He calls for promotion of agricultural development in poor countries, addressed within a long-range perspective. That includes investing in rural infrastructures, such as irrigation systems, transportation, the organization of markets for farmers and the latest forms of agricultural technology.

Pope Benedict emphasizes that everything done to combat hunger must be done with the involvement of local communities. They must be involved in choices and decisions that affect the use of their agricultural land.

The local people should also be taught innovative farming techniques, assuming that the techniques have been tested sufficiently, and been judged to be respectful of people’s culture and the environment, and attentive to the needs of the most deprived people.

All this, of course, is the approach that the Catholic Church’s aid organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, have always done. So, too, do other charities such as Food for the Poor, Catholic missionaries around the world and various other Christian relief agencies that work in the world’s poorest countries.

None of what the pope says about hunger is new, but he considered it important to point out that those of us in wealthy countries have a grave obligation to help feed the world’s hungry and starving people. Perhaps most of us can’t do it personally, but we can support the organizations that are trying to do what the pope says. †

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