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[Note: this story appears in Bread's October 2015 newsletter]
By Bread staff
Through various events and outreach efforts during the visit of Pope Francis last month, Bread for the World rallied the faith community around the goal of ending hunger by 2030.
The pontiff has made concern for people who are hungry and living in poverty one of the themes of his papacy as well as a theme during parts of his visit.
Bread wanted to take advantage of Francis’ presence in the U.S. to cement the commitment of top leaders of American faith communities and ordinary people of faith to end hunger in our time.
On Sept. 21, the eve of Francis arrival, Bread hosted a summit in Washington, D.C., of about 100 top religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim denominations and organizations.
Several of them offered remarks on reaching the 2030 goal. They were:
“At this particular hour, we all join together to salute Pope Francis for speaking out against poverty and hunger, for seeking to protect the rights of indigenous farmers and to pursue justice,” Messinger said in her remarks. “We thank him for reminding us in the recent encyclical to stop and give thanks to God before and after meals because as he says there, ‘It reminds us of our dependence on God for life, strengthens our gratitude for the gifts of creation, acknowledges those who by their labor provide us with these goods, and reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.’”
“Until all can eat, none of us is free. Until all can eat, we are each complicit,” she added.
Over dinner, the leaders conversed with each other and spoke about obstacles but also success stories in addressing hunger and poverty. They also signed a pledge committing themselves to push national leaders to focus on ending hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world (see below).
Before the dinner concluded, Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president, called the faith leaders assembled an “extraordinarily influential group of people” extraordinarily committed to their work.
He also spoke about the significance of the pope’s visit. “What I most love about Pope Francis is the way he grounds our work for social justice in our experience of God. I think that is what has brought us here tonight. That our experience of God, our communion with God can find real expression, credible expression by reforming the world to make it more consistent with the fact that God cares for everybody.”
“This is at the core of what it means to worship a living God,” Beckmann added.
The following morning, several of the religious leaders from the larger group gathered the evening before issued a formal call for a fundamental shift in the nation’s priorities – namely to end hunger and poverty by 2030. They held a press conference, organized by Bread, at the National Press Club so their message could be heard and spread by the media. Their call was officially contained in the Religious Leaders’ Pledge to End Hunger, which many of the leaders had signed on to the previous evening.
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), spoke passionately about the integral role government can play in ending hunger and poverty by 2030.
“Since 2011, powerful political forces have pushed for deep and disproportionate cuts in all the programs that go mainly to people in poverty,” she said. “Starting this fall, Congress needs to steer away from brinkmanship and put an end to the sequester. We will make it clear that we want a president and a Congress by 2017 who will work together, who reflects God’s special concern for hungry and poor people - our neighbors around the world.”
“Today, we turn our effort to end hunger in our time,” she added.
Others who spoke represented various faith-based organizations, including American Jewish World Service, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Islamic Relief, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, and the Salvation Army.
For its part, the Salvation Army is launching an initiative to reduce “intergenerational poverty across the United States by transforming the lives of 100,000 families by 2030.”
Commissioner David Jeffrey, national commander of The Salvation Army in the United States, said that last year his organization served roughly 30 million people by providing meals, shelter, and other services.
“Serving such vast numbers of people, we are keenly aware of the trials that our clients face,” he said. “We also know that their struggles will persist if we keep treating the recurring symptoms of the problem and not the source. That is why we are expanding our focus from serving to solving.”
The pledge reads in part:
“U.S. faith communities are deeply engaged with many sisters and brothers who struggle with hunger and poverty, and we have become increasingly active in urging our nation’s elected leaders to do their part – defending low-income people in the national budget debate, for example. Our experience of God’s mercy and compassion for all people moves us to engage in God’s work of overcoming hunger and human misery, and our sacred traditions include visions of the world transformed.”
The faith leaders will take this message back to their communities to rally support for the change in our nation’s priorities.
We want a president and a Congress ... who reflects God’s special concern for hungry and poor people.
During Pope Francis’ various public appearances on his three stops in the U.S., Bread staff and volunteers canvassed the crowds, encouraging people to take a pledge to end hunger (#Pledge2EndHunger). The canvassers wore bright orange Bread T-shirts and took photos as people made their pledge. The canvassers also passed out fans with information about the pledge printed on them. The fans said, “I’m a fan of Francis.”
Jennifer Gonzalez and Stephen Padre, editors in the communications department at Bread for the World, contributed to this article.
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