by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Last Sunday’s Gospel story of the two disciples’ encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus surely still resonates with us this week. There are so many elements for reflection there, particularly around the key phrase: “We recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.”
One of these insights — important for our Movement that “seeks to model the Peace of Christ” — surely has to be the tragic violence done to millions in the world who have no bread to break — that is the hunger and increasing famine being reported in staggering and increasing numbers. Just a week ago a representative of the World Food Programme of the United Nations (UN) reported that with the Covid-19 pandemic some 265 million (!) people face starvation today. This is violence writ in almost incomprehensible statistics.
Another datum related to hunger and starvation particularly relevant to the Pax Christi social analysis is the fact that one of the major national and international causes of these huge problems is conflict. The logic of this is clear: wars lead to greater food insecurity and, in its turn, food insecurity increases the chances of unrest and violence.
These reflections impact Pax Christi in a direct way. The old adage “think globally, act locally” applies here: beginning with our personal and communal lifestyles, on to the possibilities we have to educate, to preaching for those with access to a pulpit, and for all of us advocacy efforts at every level. In all of these areas we have the duty of raising our voices and calling ourselves, our nation, and indeed our world to make an essential part of the hoped-for “new normal” that of overcoming the violence of hunger/famine and holding out a vision for the future free of this worldwide scourge.
As a major part of such a Pax Christi challenge, in addition to raising awareness that violence and conflict significantly drive situations of hunger/famine, is another important fact: the world has sufficient food for the 7 billion people alive today and indeed for the increasing numbers of souls in decades to come. One official of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization categorically stated that the task of feeding the world’s population going forward seems “easily possible”— possible, yes; easy, not so.
A study from the Food and Agriculture Organization states that the eradication of hunger will be done by mobilizing the political will and building the necessary institutions to ensure that key decisions on investment levels and allocation are taken. We can clearly see that such decisions on investment levels in food production and allocation vs. military spending in the United States alone can and must be changed. From a national budget which allocates some $375 billion on war and literally trillions more for “new and improved” war-making capacities, why can we not shift to a totally new mindset about what constitutes “defense”?
It is a question of conversion, of changing hearts, of envisioning something entirely new. Pope Francis put this challenge succinctly in his encyclical Laudato Si. Quoting from the Earth Charter of the Year 2000, the pope wrote: “As never before in history common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning … Let ours be a time for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability…” That was at the dawn of the New Millennium. It is all the more true today at the dawn of a post-coronavirus era in human history.
Our Catholic/Christian tradition continues to inspire this tremendous and hope-filled challenge. For years Catholic Social Teaching has urged the Church and the world not to ignore this global problem. In his 1967 Encyclical Populorum Progresio, Pope Paul VI connected sharing bread at the global table with hungry human beings. He said: “It is a question of building a human community where the needy Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich one.” Ten years later Pope John Paul II spoke specifically to America in a sermon at Yankee Stadium: “We cannot stand idly by enjoying our own riches if in any place the Lazaruses of the world stand at our doors.”
Let me sum up this reflection with a slightly edited phrase from last Sunday’s Gospel: “We will ultimately recognize the Risen Christ in a worldwide breaking of the bread.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.