Year of Mercy - Feeding the Hungry and Giving Drink to the Thirsty
Tuesday, 13 September 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


 ‘Feeding the Hungry and Giving Drink to the Thirsty’


EDITOR’S NOTE: We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

By Sister Mary Cunningham, H.M.
Special to the Exponent


 Recently my eye was caught by a highway billboard that stated: “Every American wastes 290 pounds of food every year.” That’s almost twice the body weight of most individual Americans. How could that be?

It is hard to take in the full impact of statistics. For example, more than 22,000 people worldwide die every day from hunger. In the six counties of the Youngstown Diocese, the level of food insecurity ranges between 14.8 percent and 16.9 percent of households, while the national average is 14.3 percent.

Seniors are among the most consistent food pantry clients and often must choose between medical bills and food. Have you ever taken dinner to an elderly neighbor or invited them to your home for a meal, especially on a holiday?

Children make up the other most vulnerable group. One in five lacks adequate nutrition critical to their physical, mental and emotional development. We can talk to our own children about the problem of hunger and food waste while encouraging them to be part of fund-raising and food collections to feed other children. We can also advocate for policy solutions from legislators by asking them to pass funding for child nutrition programs.

The Gospel of Matthew recalls Jesus’ response to his disciples when they wanted to send the crowd of people away to buy food. Jesus said: “They need not go away. You give them something to eat.” When the disciples protested that they had only five loaves and two fish, Jesus blessed and broke the loaves. After eating they had 12 baskets of leftovers. “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” 

Today Jesus speaks those words to us: “You give them something to eat.” What concrete action am I taking to ensure that others have enough to eat? Do I donate food or money to local food pantries, parish collections or Catholic Relief Services? Can I volunteer to collect, sort and distribute food? Places such as the Samaritan Table in Canton, Dorothy Day House in Youngstown, and various St. Vincent de Paul dining rooms, such as Warren and Youngstown, also need volunteers who prepare and serve food to the guests.

We all hunger for food but also for human interaction. By sitting down at the table and talking with guests, we can offer support, and, in turn, be touched by their presence. When Pope Francis addressed Congress during his visit to Washington, D.C., he chose to eat lunch, not with national leaders, but with guests at a nearby soup kitchen. He “walked the talk” of the mercy he asks of us. Like Jesus, he befriended persons on the margins while respecting their human dignity.

Sometimes we forget the significance of what we eat. Food is sacred because it is God’s gift to us from creation and is a universal right. It nurtures our bodies and our spirits. Presuming there is adequate food, it brings us together as community whether at the family dinner table, a festive celebration, a wedding or a funeral. At Eucharist the gifts of bread and wine become our spiritual food and drink, making us one with each other and with God. We are sisters and brothers transformed into bread broken and drink poured out for others.

St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, said that “love consists in sharing what one has and who one is. Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.”


Humility of Mary Sister Mary Cunningham, a parishioner of Youngstown St. Patrick Parish, serves in spiritual direction and as an advocate for the care of creation.