Lenten Initiative: A World Without Hunger

World Food Program Director Responds to Papal Message

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The executive director of the World Food Program is backing Benedict XVI's message for Lent, and particularly his call to foster the attitude of a Good Samaritan.



Josette Sheeran said this today when she spoke at the press conference where the Pope's Lenten message for 2009 was presented.

She noted that "hunger is on the march worldwide" and that the call to fight hunger is something that unites people of all faiths.

"I would like to assure each and every one of you that when it comes to hunger, you can make a difference. […] And it is an achievable goal," the director said. "We could cut hunger among school children virtually overnight if enough people came forward to help."

Sheeran noted how the food and economic crisis affect the poorest most severely: "Since 2007, 115 million were added to the ranks of the hungry to create a total of nearly 1 billion people without adequate food. That is one in six people on earth."

However, she continued, the problem is not a lack of food but a "problem of distribution -- and of greed, discrimination, wars and other tragedies. There is enough food on earth for every human to have adequate access to a nutritious diet. This is indeed a challenge for the human heart."

Success stories

The director affirmed that the tools and technology to combat hunger are not lacking.

She offered some examples of how charity programs have been able to stop mass starvation in places like Darfur or how programs like her own help communities to become self-sustaining.

"One exciting example of innovation is what I call the 'Salt Ladies of Senegal,'" Sheeran explained. "Senegal is a food-deficit nation, but produces a surplus of salt. The problem is the salt is not fortified with iodine, and Senegal has an epidemic of iodine-deficiency disorders, such as goiter, which inflicts lasting damage on children's minds and bodies.

"WFP [the World Food Program] decided to purchase all its salt from 7,000 village producers and give them the tools to iodize the salt. The result is a true win-win-win. The women have a steady income, we get iodized salt for our programs, and they also sell iodized salt now to their villages, helping to fight the disorder."

Fighting hunger needs collaboration, the director continued, noting how her program partners with local Caritas in the dioceses of nearly 40 countries and Catholic Relief Services in 15 countries.

The Pope's team

Sheeran said that she was "deeply moved" by Benedict XVI's "commitment and compassion for the world's hungry."

And, she added, "people, especially during the Lenten season, want to know how they can help. This is manifest in the Lenten message we just heard, with its challenge to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan. Humanitarian assistance is not possible without Good Samaritans stepping up to help people in need. Whether from the generous donations of national governments, or collections taken in churches, mosques and schools, donations to relief agencies are essential for continuing to reach hungry people around the world. […]

"The tradition of voluntarily fasting during Lent, and giving the funds to charity, can make a real difference in a child's life."

The director also called for a "human rescue package" in addition to the stimulus packages being proposed for economies around the world.

"We have called for 0.7% of all stimulus plans to be dedicated to fighting hunger," she said. "Financial rescue packages must serve not only Wall Street and Main Street, but also the places where there are no streets."

"Each one of us has a choice," Sheeran concluded, "to pass by those in need, or to take action to help others. This Lent, let us choose a hunger-free world."

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-24988?l=english