LIVERPOOL, England – Providing sustenance for life’s journey is what the Eucharist is about, and during the recent Adoremus Eucharistic Congress for the Church in England and Wales, the deacons of the Archdiocese of Liverpool decided to focus on the physical hunger facing people around the world.
The archdiocese sponsored a “parallel program” taking place at parishes around the city during the Sept. 7-9 meeting, and the Liverpool Order of Deacons hosted an event at St. Vincent de Paul Church looking at the issues surrounding hunger and food poverty today.
The church seemed appropriate, since the French saint was famous for his dedication to the poor, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is now a familiar presence in parishes around the world, providing charitable services for the less fortunate.
“The office of the deacon enforces the Church’s mission of ‘diakonia’ of service, and it will energize the Church, and how it will be a Church of service, particularly to the poor,” said Deacon John Traynor, one of the speakers at the event.
The daylong workshop looked at issues of hunger affecting both the local Church in Liverpool, and the universal Church, especially in developing countries.
Representatives from Liverpool Michah – an ecumenical foodbank organized by the city’s Catholic and Anglican cathedrals – spoke about how hunger is affecting people in the city, once one of the richest in England but now suffering the effects of post-industrialization.
A representative of the Scotland-based charity Mary’s Meals showed a film about how their work is offering one good meal a day for over 1.3 million schoolchildren in some of the poorest countries in the world.
The program helped give an idea of what the role of a deacon is today, and how that affects the entire Church.
“We wanted to think about what breaking bread for the world means, what the significance of Eucharist in daily life is, and ‘diakonia,’ the service of deacons, is the work of the whole Church,” said Father Christopher Fallon, the director of Deacons for the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
He told Crux service is the focus of the diaconate in the archdiocese.
“The emphasis that we are trying to work on now is particularly this emphasis of being at the service of those who are in need,” Fallon said. “We have deacons who are involved in charities working with asylum seekers, deacons involved with food banks – a lot of them supporting the St. Vincent de Paul Society in its outreach to the poor – and trying to be the driving force in ensuring that all of our Church communities are reaching out to those who are in some kind of need.”
Traynor said the workshop helped show how the Eucharist was not a passive part of the Church, but compelled people to action.
“If we truly understand the Eucharist and the presence of Christ, the whole Eucharist is focused towards service. It shouldn’t be internal looking,” he told Crux. “it’s how if Christ is really present it means I must go out and minister to all my brothers and sisters in the world, and the community. The Eucharist essentially is a community activity.”
The workshop also looked at some of the societal causes of poverty and hunger, and how the Church can be a prophetic voice in public life.
“The Church has a role to show moral leadership to politicians and to decisionmakers throughout the process, making it quite clear that poverty is not acceptable in wealthy countries,” said Joshua Fentin-Glynn, from Church Action on Poverty.
He spoke to the workshop about problems with Universal Credit, the social benefits system introduced in the UK in 2013. The new program replaced six means-tested benefits and tax credits, such as unemployment benefits, the child tax credit, and housing allowance.
The new system has faced criticism because it causes delays in payments, and food banks say they have become busier since the reform was implanted, and government auditors say it has not helped people get into work.
Activists also say its complexity means those at the very bottom rungs of society often fall through the cracks.
Fentin-Glynn spoke to the deacons and other participants about what they could do to engage political leaders on the issue.
“We believe the root causes of poverty and hunger in the UK – which is the sixth richest country in the world, where food bank use is increasing exponentially, and where 1 in 5 children are in families that are regularly going without food – we believe the root causes of that are questions of political choice,” he told Crux. “We think it is important that Christians, and people of good conscience, step up to the plate and speak about that.”
Fentin-Glynn said Church Action on Poverty has run with the message of Pope Francis: The Church should be both of and for the poor.
“Tacking hunger, tackling poverty and standing up to the forces that cause that, will bring people closer to Christ,” he said.
Traynor said that this devotion to serving those in need is the distinctive role of the deacon.
“I don’t regard myself as half a priest, or a substitute priest,” he said.
“I exercise my role in the liturgy because I think if we truly understand the liturgy it ought to propel us to an external service of ministry. We draw our strength from the presence of Christ in the liturgy, but to go out, to be outward looking, to go to the margins of society,” added the deacon.