ROME – As part of its own “Laudato si’ Week” being celebrated May 16-24, but also with the hope of influencing an upcoming UN Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome in July, the Vatican is presenting a series of webinars on food for all.
Given that, according to the UN’s World Food Program, some 957 million people across 93 countries don’t have enough to eat, Father Augusto Zampini from the Vatican office organizing the webinars is convinced that raising awareness of the problem, trying to mobilize those who can help, is part of the Church’s mission.
“Some might ask, ‘Why are you working on this?’ and it’s both because of the crisis and the opportunity of the crisis,” he told Crux over the phone Friday evening. “It’s also a question of spirituality: If you think about it, the center of our faith, the Eucharist, was instituted in a supper. Every single religion has a rite or something that comprises food or a meal, more so for Christians, who believe that Christ is the bread of life.”
“Because of the crisis, because of the opportunity of the crisis, and because it’s intrinsically linked to our faith,” said Zampini, adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development and a member of the COVID-19 commission. “This is why we’re so invested on this issue, more so than in previous years.”
The three webinars- May 17, 26 and 31- are being organized in conjunction by the Holy See’s Secretary of State and its permanent mission to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development and World Food Program, as well as the Vatican’s COVID-19 Commission and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The webinar series, called “Food for life, food justice, food for all,” is inspired by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical letter Laudato si’, and organizers hope it will showcase how an integral ecology – considering the interconnections, among other things, between social systems and ecosystems – can inspire a regeneration of food systems in the post-COVID future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has “exacerbated all of our social problems, including inequality, and comprising food insecurity,” Zampini said, noting that estimate warn that more people will die due to food-caused issues this year than due to COVID, malaria, dengue, and other diseases.
“The food chain has been disrupted,” he said. This means that millions globally are affected, and an “immense wave of famine” is expected. This is particularly problematic because famine has long-lasting impact in societies, particularly when it comes to the development of children aged 0-5.
“When famine strikes, there’s no going back,” Zampini said. “We have to prevent famine.”
Though the United Nations organizes a world summit every year – the next is scheduled for New York in September, following the pre-summit in Rome – this year the disruption of access to food is such that even countries “that are ‘fighting’ against one another for different reasons have agreed to form a food coalition, including the United States, Russia, China,” he said.
The priest is hopeful when it comes to preventing a “disaster,” and also at the opportunity that the crisis presents to “reimagine the agricultural system that we have, which is unfair, unequal and environmentally unsustainable.”
According to a statement released this week, the hope is that the three conversations, that will privilege the voices of women, indigenous communities, people living in crisis settings and small-scale farmers, will “highlight how Church and other actors can contribute to this transformation of food systems towards the care for our common home, the eradication of hunger, the respect of human dignity and the service of the common good, so that no one is left behind.”
The first webinar, titled “Food for Life: The role of women in the promotion of integral human development,” will feature a dialogue about the unique role of women in development, with emphasis on how to support their leadership in shaping resilient food systems across the globe.
The second webinar, “Food Justice: Jobs, innovation, and finance at the service of food justice,” will emphasize the importance of dignified work, finance and innovation in rebuilding sustainable food systems, particularly in the post-COVID future. The final webinar, titled “Food for All: Food conflicts and the future of food systems,” will explore different responses to food conflicts, and how the Church can best contribute and collaborate to address hunger and food inequality around the world.
The various Vatican dicasteries, academies and offices putting together the webinars are aware that “we’re not the saviors, nor do we have the political and technical solutions to address the crisis,” Zampini said. “But the situation is so critical when it comes to food security, linked to the health security of COVID and the climate crisis, that international organizations and countries are too wondering how to cope.”
“They’re looking for religions to help, particularly the Church, because we’re truly Catholic, meaning, we’re present all over the world, and we’re present on the ground,” he said. “More than ever before, international organizations and countries have asked for our help, arguing that as things stand now, the world won’t be able to reach the second Sustainable Development Goal, defeating global hunger.”
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