CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Catholic Vegetarian Association launched on World Food Day

HONG KONG (SE): “Catholic charities are at the forefront of feeding the poor and the hungry,” said Brother David Steindl-Rast at the inauguration of the Hong Kong Vegetarian Association at the Diocese Centre on World Food Day, October 16.

 “They have an acute awareness of the need for food, but while they have a high awareness about the need for charity, it is not matched by their awareness of the needs of the ecology,” the Austrian-born brother continued.

He added that there is a tendency in the Church to look to God and to the human, but to overlook the earth.

“God gives us mother earth to feed us,” the member of the Pine City Benedictine Monastery in New York, the United States of America, told the 300 people present at the inauguration.

“But our relationship with the earth will determine how well people are fed,” he continued. “Today, people tend to think of the earth as a commodity to be exploited, rather than a mother of all people.”

A press release from the New York-based Maryknoll Society published on World Food Day, cites an Iowa-based industrial agricultural corporation, AgriSol, which proposes acquiring 325,000 hectares of land in Tanzania, an area which is home to 162,000 people.

“Most of these are former refugees from neighbouring Burundi… several generations of families who have successfully re-established their lives by developing and farming the land over the last 40 years,” the statement notes.

“[They] will be displaced against their will. They will lose their livelihoods and their communities… Despite rising international criticism… the Tanzanian government plans to move forward with the project,” the press release continues.

“While generating tremendous profits for the investors, it will do little, if anything, for Tanzanians… It is likely that if this land deal goes ahead, it will set a precedent for future land rights abuses,” it concludes.

This runs contrary to the imperative articulated by Pope Benedict XVI during his angelus on World Food Day.

Citing the horrific famine currently plaguing the people of the Horn of Africa, the pontiff said, “The efforts of governments and other components of the international community must be oriented to effective options, aware that liberation from the yoke of hunger is the first concrete manifestation of the right to life, which—despite its having been solemnly proclaimed—is often only very far from being fulfilled effectively.”

Brother Steindl-Rast told the group in Hong Kong that it is incumbent on every individual to take this statement from the pope seriously. Addressing the topic of the spirituality of food, he quoted St. Matthew’s gospel in saying that we are called to be stewards of the earth.

“Who is the good and faithful steward is a question that we must answer,” he noted.

In his opening prayer, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming said that, as with all things, we must ask ourselves how we can use food for the glory God.

He said that we must keep in mind that the Lord made the world and the universe, and made us in his own image and likeness. “All belongs to the Lord,” he noted.

Brother Steindl-Rast said that as a result, “Each of us should eat so that there is food for all. That is the challenge of World Food Day. It is a personal calling and asks us to distinguish between what we need and what we want. So this leaves us with the question of what must we do.”

Brother Steindl-Rast explained that first we must identify the problem, as the reality is that even though the world is capable of producing enough food to feed its population, millions are still starving. “So we must ask, why the hunger.”

In identifying the craving for meat in many countries of the world, he said that cutting back on this desire could go a long way towards producing more grain to feed people.

Pointing out how many showers a person would need to sacrifice to save the amount of water it takes to produce one kilogramme of beef, he added that the amount of grain the animals are fed also limits food availability for the poor.

The foundation vice president of the newly formed Catholic Vegetarian Association of Hong Kong, Katie Chan Kit-ki, pointed out in introducing Brother Steindl-Rast that a lot of food is wasted in the city every day.

She called this a disrespect for food, saying that the fact that we often do not notice the wastage makes the situation even worse, as we know that there are hungry people within arm’s reach.

In officially inaugurating the new vegetarian association in the diocese, Bishop John Tong Hon encouraged people to approach food in a balanced way, so as to eat enough, but keep the needs of others in mind.

During the afternoon a dietician addressed the group on how to make up good, healthy and balanced diets, saying that it is possible to live healthy without the amount of meat that many people in Hong Kong include in their daily intake.

Brother Steindl-Rast encouraged people to work towards eating less meat and, if possible to give it up altogether.

“But,” he warned, “don’t try to do it all at once (as people can get sick at a sudden change of diet), do it gradually, but do it!”

During the afternoon people were invited to taste a variety of vegetarian foods, ranging from fresh vegetables to a series of delicacies made from fruit, nuts and a wide variety of seeds, all things that can be eaten in place of meat products.

Brother Steindl-Rast said that by knowing about various options, we can all play a part in promoting a better balanced diet.

He cited the example of the extreme annoyance a tiny mosquito can cause at night, saying that even though we may think that our little efforts do not mean much, we can be like the mosquito and help to keep others awake.

He added that, as Christians, we have the example of Jesus to follow. “When Jesus ate with his disciples we are told he broke bread. This is recorded many times in the gospels. We are invited to share and, when we are eating, to remember God, who provides; as well as being mindful of those who go hungry.”

Brother Steindl-Rast also noted, “Jesus always gave thanks. We need a real gratitude for the food that we have and we should show it.”

He also drew attention to the great gift of the Eucharist that Jesus bequeathed to us.

He quoted the words of consecration, “This is my body,” saying that we should understand the whole world as being the body of God.

“We mark World Food Day by realising that all food is sacred. The earth is sacred,” he concluded. “It is our sacred duty to trust Mother Earth that there is food for all.”

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