In a powerfully worded address Thursday, Pope Francis urged the world not to wait for governments and international organizations to end hunger but to take the matter into their own hands.
Speaking before a delegation of the 39th Conference of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Pope said that in the case of world hunger, it is too easy to delegate our personal responsibility to act, always thinking it is someone else’s responsibility, and called for a grassroots response here and now.
Faced with the poverty of many of our brothers and sisters, we could be tempted to think that it is just one more symptom of the time of crisis in which we live, he said.
“Everywhere we see the growing number of people with limited access to regular and healthy meals,” he said. “But instead of acting, we prefer to delegate and delegate at all levels. And we assume that somebody else will take care of it, maybe some other country, or government, or some international organization.”
“Our tendency to ‘cop out’ in difficult issues is human,” the Pope warned, but then we calm our consciences and “go to a meeting, or a conference, or we draft a document.”
On the contrary, he urged, actions are more necessary than meetings and programs. “We must respond to the imperative that access to necessary food is a right for all, and rights do not allow exclusions,” he said.
In remarkably stark words, especially considering the group he was addressing, Francis begged concerned people of good will to move from the theoretical to the practical, and actually do something.
Francis insisted that it is “not enough to analyze the situation of nutrition in the world,” as if understanding the statistics of hunger we were actually doing something to remedy it. He did, however, acknowledge that such exercises are useful, since “it is necessary to keep up on the data, because they show us the harsh reality.”
“Sure, we can take comfort knowing that those 1.2 billion hungry people in 1992 has been reduced, even though the world population has grown,” the Pope continued. “Nevertheless, there is little point in noting the numbers or even planning a series of concrete commitments and recommendations and investment policies to be implemented, if we neglect the obligation to eradicate hunger and prevent all forms of malnutrition throughout the world.”
The Pope expressed his disgust that some 33% of the world’s food production is destined to go to waste. “How disturbing to hear that a good portion of agricultural produce is used for other purposes, perhaps good purposes, other than the immediate needs of the hungry,” he said.
“Then we must ask ourselves, what can we do? Moreover, what am I already doing?” he said.
Francis questioned destining agricultural products “to make animal feed or to produce biofuels.” Certainly, we must ensure increasingly healthy environmental conditions, he said, “but can we keep doing this while excluding someone?”
The Pope also criticized financial speculation as one of the causes of hunger in the world. He noted from the FAO’s own published reports that since 2008 the price of food has been increasing erratically but continuously.
“We can blame climate change,” he said, “but we cannot forget financial speculation. An example is the price of wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, which fluctuate with the market, sometimes linked to investment funds and, therefore, the higher the price the more the fund earns.”
The Pope denounced what he sees as a “generic resignation, disinterest and even the absence of so many, even States” in the question of world hunger.
“Sometimes you get the feeling that hunger is an unpopular topic,” he said, “an insolvable problem, and since it cannot be resolved within a legislative or presidential term, it does not guarantee a consensus.”
The causes that limit a contributions of ideas, technology, expertise and funding to the problem of world hunger “lie in the unwillingness to make binding commitments as leaders hide behind the issue of the global economic crisis and the idea that hunger is found in all countries,” he said.
In this hard-hitting address, the Pope urged all people to start with a change in lifestyle, “aware that our small gestures can ensure the sustainability and future of the human family.”
We must “continue the fight against hunger without ulterior motives,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome