"Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to
them, `Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical
needs, what good is it?"
— James 2: 15-16
It is never possible to forget the gaze of a child who is hungry or the desperation of a mother
trying to secure her child's next meal. The need for food to sustain one's life is primal yet
the ability to do so depends on many complex factors beyond oneself.
Today, more than ever, we are continually
exposed and aware of hunger in the world,
whether it is in Yemen, Cambodia, Congo, Haiti
or South Sudan. Yet, the ability to affect the reality
of those who are suffering seems like it can be
far from our reach.
We hear the indignation, anger and desperation
of those who are directly impacted, yet some
of us are frozen in place when we reflect on how to
help. Many of our brothers and sisters
all over the world are surviving on just
one cup of rice per day.
Intellectually, we understand the
common drivers of food insecurity:
conflict, displacement, poverty and
climate change. We understand the
basic human right to life and a basic
standard of living, including food. We
understand, and we are outraged. But
is it enough?
The passage in James 2:15-16 reminds us that
faith must be accompanied with action. It is not
simply enough to send good wishes with the
hopes that words will suffice to alleviate someone's
condition. While being empathetic is necessary,
it must also be translated into good deeds.
"TENEMOS HAMBRE! WE ARE HUNGRY!"
I am reminded of a roadside protest in my home
country of Venezuela; a crowd of mostly women
were gathered near a roadblock chanting "tenemos
hambre!" which means "we are hungry!"
in Spanish. The women were demanding that the
government of Nicolas Maduro provide much
needed food for their children. One woman said
that she cries herself to sleep at night because she has nothing to give her children to eat. Her reality
is the reality of many parents, families and children
across the world. Undernourished children
look significantly younger than their biological
age because they lack the proper nutrients for
growth. Children play pretend in the dirt making
patty cakes for dinner. Grandmothers beg for food to survive. Each day it is about survival, nothing
As psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced
in his "Hierarchy of Needs" concept, human
beings will be stuck in the most basic physiological
level until those needs are fully met.
If a person can't secure basic physical
requirements, they will never transcend
into the highest levels of selfactualization.
Maslow's depiction of
personal motivation is also a reflection
of a country's development potential.
If most of the population is struggling
to feed themselves, then the potential
for a country's full development will equally be
The latest United Nations World Food Programme
Global Report on Food Crises estimates
that there are "over 124 million people living in
crisis food security or worse," which means at risk
of starvation or famine.1 In addition, there are over
800 million people worldwide who are undernourished,
which amounts to 10 percent of the
entire global population. As an example, in 2017
South Sudan experienced famine affecting over 5
million people. That is about the size of 50 large
football stadiums full of people. Therefore, it is
normal for any one of us to feel like we can't possibly
do anything. It is normal to feel frozen because
5 million people to feed appears insurmountable.
Yet, there lies the calling of the Catholic faith.
In Matthew 25:35, "… I was hungry and you gave
me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I
was a stranger and you welcomed me," the capacity
to help our brothers and sisters in need is a
measure of our humanity. Hunger is not abstract;
it has a human face. In order to tackle what seems
insurmountable, we must encounter the face of
those who are hungry in the most tangible way. To
encounter hunger and to work to alleviate it does
not require flying thousands of miles. In the developed
world, it might be as easy as visiting the local
food pantry, supporting migrant families or helping
to transform food deserts. As Pope Francis
says, when confronting hunger humanity "cannot
remain merely preoccupied or, worse, resigned."
In the developing world, food security might
be determined by inflation, drought, conflict or political repression. Responding to hunger might
take the shape of learning about, and getting
involved in, development aid. For some expats, it
might take the shape of getting involved in their
home country economically, politically or socially.
There is certainly not one single or uniform
formula to tackle hunger in the world. If we are so
fortunate to encounter someone that we can help
in our path, and affect their lives even if it is for
one moment, then hopefully we will inch closer
into a more equitable world. We live in a global
community and it has become more common
to encounter the face of human suffering. What
actions will we take when we encounter a brother
or sister without clothes or daily food? Will we
feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome
is the system director, global
ministries for Bon Secours Mercy Health. She is
based in Marriottsville, Md.
- World Food Programme, "2018 Global Report
on Food Crises," https://www.wfp.org/content/
- Francis, message to 40th General Conference of the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,
July 3, 2017, w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/
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