By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 28, 2020
ATLANTA—“Shadow pandemics” are stalking vulnerable communities around the world in addition to the novel coronavirus, said Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.
The number of people suffering from hunger and childhood malnourishment is expected to double over the next months as the new disease blocks access to food supplies, he said, citing a United Nations statistic.
“The Holy Father has told all of us that we have two choices. We can either turn inward or reach outward and be opened outwards,” he said in an online news conference May 14.
Catholic Relief Services is kickstarting a “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign targeting aid to countries around the globe as they struggle to feed their citizens. It’s a multi-year effort to raise awareness, encourage fundraising and promote advocacy to combat global hunger.
“I know that Catholics in the archdiocese care about protecting life. This campaign offers a chance to do so while reinforcing our commitment to global solidarity,” said Jayna Hoffacker, the Archdiocese of Atlanta program coordinator for Justice and Peace Ministries.
One of the efforts is to direct $12 billion in aid from the United States to support efforts overseas, Callahan said. He said the request is a “small percentage” of the trillions spent in the United States in response to the pathogen crisis to care for people.
Mirroring the United States, health measures have cut off people from work, closed borders—preventing food from getting to markets—and shut down schools.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, 135 million people around the world experienced acute hunger. Now, because of disruptions caused by the virus, the United Nations estimates the number facing starvation to almost double by the end of this year, according to CRS.
“There’s an urgency right now and that’s what we’re called to do. The situation in the United States is worsening, and the situation around the world is worsening. We know that one in every nine people goes to bed hungry in the world. That situation is now rising and acute hunger is expected,” he said.
In Sierra Leone, CRS staff pivoted its school feeding program. Daniel Mumuni, a staff member, said 50,000 students risked going without food when schools closed with the coronavirus lockdown. Instead, the staff are out in the field delivering at-home meals to provide the families nutrition. The food is often the only meal these school-age youngsters are guaranteed.
“Fighting hunger is not a cause for one organization or one individual. We need everybody’s support around the table to ensure that we can address this urgent global crisis in humanitarian need,” he said in the video call.
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, urged Catholics to get involved. He sits on the CRS board.
“Jesus said whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me. This campaign is one of the outward expressions of our response to Christ’s example, and his call,” said Archbishop Hebda. “It is a way of living out what Pope Francis calls missionary discipleship. I love how it concretely calls forth leaders who have already encountered Christ in the face of the poor, to then become prophetic advocates for justice, and for the common good. The potential is enormous.”