Extreme poverty is a reality, not a faceless statistic, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

(CNS) — The key to ending extreme poverty and hunger is to recognize that
behind every statistic, there is the face of a person who is suffering, Pope
Francis said.

has a face! It has the face of a child; it has the face of a family; it has the
face of people, young and old. It has the face of widespread unemployment and
lack of opportunity. It has the face of forced migrations, and of empty or
destroyed homes,” the pope said June 13 during a visit to the Rome
headquarters of the U.N.’s World Food Program.

communications, while informing the world of the tragedy of poverty, has also
resulted in a desensitized culture that has turned the real suffering of people
into statistics, the pope told WFP executive board members.

The world is gradually “growing immune to other
people’s tragedies, seeing them as something ‘natural,'” he said. “Without faces and stories, human lives become
statistics and we run the risk of bureaucratizing the sufferings of others.”

According to the WFP website, the organization provides
food assistance to an estimated 80 million people in 82 countries.

Arriving at the headquarters, the pope greeted employees and took a moment
to pray in front of a plaque commemorating those who died in the line of duty. The
pope praised their sacrifice, saying that far from a “cold and anonymous
institution,” the WFP is “an effective means for the international
community” to carry out the work of feeding the hungry.

credibility of an institution is not based on its declarations, but on the work
accomplished by its members,” he said.

While noting the
potential of an “interconnected world marked by instant communications,”
the pope also lamented a situation in which extreme poverty is considered “natural”
and the tragic circumstances of the hungry “turn into one more news

If the people behind the statistics are not recognized, he said, the world “can yield to the
temptation of discussing ‘hunger,’ ‘food,’ and ‘violence’ as concepts without
reference to the real people knocking on our doors today.”

“We are
bombarded by so many images that we see pain, but do not touch it; we hear
weeping, but do not comfort it; we see thirst but do not satisfy it,” he
said. “While the headlines may change, the pain, the hunger and the thirst
remain; they do not go away.”

Pope Francis told
the members of the WFP executive board that the first step in fighting poverty
is to “de-naturalize” it and shed light on the causes of poverty due to
“a selfish and wrong distribution of resources” as well as the abuse
and exploitation of the earth.

“We have made
the fruits of the earth — a gift to humanity — commodities for a few, thus
engendering exclusion. The consumerism in which our societies are immersed has
made us grow accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food,” he

The pope also brought attention to the resources and
priority given to the production and purchase of weapons at the same time that efforts
to distribute food supplies to hungry people suffering in war zones are used as
a “weapon of war.”

“We thus find
ourselves faced with a strange paradox. Whereas forms of aid and development
projects are obstructed by complicated
and incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and
impenetrable customs barriers, weaponry is not,” he said.

Praising the World
Food Program’s dedication to eradicating world hunger, the pope affirmed the
church’s commitment and cooperation
to defend and protect the dignity of those who suffer.

“‘I was hungry
and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.’ These
words embody one of the axioms of Christianity. Independent of creeds and
convictions, they can serve as a golden rule for our peoples,” the pope

After delivering his
address, Pope Francis greeted WFP employees, telling them he preferred to speak off the cuff rather
than reading his prepared remarks because “speeches are a bit

Thanking the
employees for their “hidden work behind the scenes” in eradicating
poverty, the pope called on them to never forget the lives of the program’s
employees who died while serving others.

“They were able
to do that not only because of the courage they had (and) the faith they had in
their work, but also because they were sustained by your work. Thank you so
much and I ask you to pray for me so that I, too, can be able to do something against hunger,” he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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