“Eucharist and Hunger,” Pedro Arrupe (1976)


Before the International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976, Pedro Arrupe delivered two addresses, the second and more public of which appears below. The theme of the symposium was hunger, and Arrupe’s remarks describe the “problem of world hunger” as a “moral, a spiritual problem.” That is why he stresses the “tremendous significance,” in the context of world hunger, of the “‘social dimension’ of the Eucharist.” He states that, “we cannot properly receive the Bread of Life without sharing bread for life with those in want.”

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.

 

 

1. We are one body with those who perish of hunger

“Lord, it is good for us to be here.” It is good to be with you and share with you this wonderful celebration…. But suppose the hungry of the world were also here with us this morning. Let us think only of those who are going to die of starvation today, the day of our Symposium of Hunger. There would be thousands of them, probably more than all of us who are gathered in this hall. Let us try to see them: their bodies weak and emaciated, their outstretched hands, their weak and fading voices, their terrible silence: “Give us bread … give us bread for we are dying of hunger!”

 

And if, at the end of our discussions on “the Eucharist and the Hunger for Bread,” as we left the hall, we had to pick our way through this mass of dying bodies, how could we claim that our Eucharist is the Bread of Life? How could we pretend to be announcing and sharing with others the same Lord who said: “I come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly”?

 

It matters little if these starving people are physically before our eyes here and now or scattered throughout the world: on the streets of Calcutta or in the rural areas of Sahel or Bangladesh. The tragedy and injustice of their death are the same wherever it takes place. And wherever it does take place, we who are here this morning have our share of responsibility. For, in the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ who will one day ask us: “I was hungry, did you give me to eat? I was thirsty, did you give me to drink? … I tell you solemnly, insofar as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these my brothers, you neglected to do it to me.”

 

Yes, we are all responsible, all involved! In the Eucharist, Jesus becomes the voice of those who have no voice. He speaks for the powerless, the oppressed, the poor, the hungry. In fact, He takes their place. And if we close our ears to their cries, we are shutting out His voice too. If we refuse to help them, then our faith is indeed dead as St. James tells us so clearly: “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is, quite dead.”

 

Brothers and Sisters, let us be honest! Most of us here this morning are well fed and in reasonably comfortable circumstances. God grant we may not merit the condemnation St. James reserves for the selfish rich, whether individuals or nations, who refuse to give bread to the hungry or to raise up the poor! “Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you…. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.”

 

2. Signs of the Times: Resources are not lacking

It is over 10 years since the Second Vatican Council made the following shameful comment on our modern world: “Never has the human race enjoyed such an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power. Yet a huge proportion of the world’s citizens is still tormented by hunger and poverty….”

 

Two years ago the United Nations World Food Conference explained more precisely what “a huge proportion” consists in. “On the most conservative estimate, there are well over 460 million of such people in the world today and their number is increasing. At least 40 per cent of them are children.” And what is meant by “such people?” The same UN document goes on to describe them as “people who are permanently hungry and whose capacity for living a normal life cannot be realized.”

 

I’m sure there is not a single person here this morning who doesn’t know these and many other facts about world hunger as well as or better than I. We have been bombarded, perhaps to saturation point, with tapes, slides, film-strips, charts, books, speeches and resolutions on hunger. In the United States alone there are hundreds of organizations, groups and agencies directly or indirectly trying to eliminate it. In Rome, where I live, the United Nations employs over 3,000 people engaged full-time in studying and trying to fight hunger throughout the world.

 

Yet the situation seems to be getting worse as the world grows richer and richer. At the beginning of his presidency, John Fitzgerald Kennedy set two goals before the American people: the first was to get a man to the moon before the end of the decade; the other was to help eliminate hunger “within our lifetime.” It is a sad comment on the values of our civilization that the first technical and scientific goal was magnificently achieved, whereas the second more humanitarian and social one has receded ever further from our grasp.

 

What is the reason? Is it that the problem is too big for us? There is no doubt that hunger and malnutrition are widespread and caused by a whole series of factors ranging from unpredictable weather to rapidly increasing populations. But, on the other hand, the experts tell us that food resources could in fact be made available to feed even greater numbers of people. Is it that we don’t know how to set about a solution, where to start? Here again there are many complex socio-economic, political and even cultural factors that have to be taken into account if a lasting solution is to be found to the problem of world hunger. However, to get a man on the moon, to arm and defend ourselves and our allies, we have made such a dazzling display of resources, of technology, of human ingenuity and of social engineering, that we cannot say, with a clear conscience, people are hungry simply because we do not know what to do or how to do it. What is basically lacking are not resources, technology or knowledge. What is it then?

 

It can only be our will to do something; our determination to marshal the resources, technology and knowledge we have to satisfy not only what we consider to be our own needs and interests, but also what in fact are the most basic needs of others. Whether we come from rich or poor countries, we do not seem to have sufficient motivation to turn us towards the needs of those most in want and to translate our concern often sincere but vague and ineffectual, into concrete deeds. The problem of world hunger is not primarily an economic, a social or even a political one. It is basically a moral, a spiritual problem.

 

The world’s hunger for food will only be satisfied when man learns to live not simply for himself, but for others, as Christ did. It will be satisfied only when the inner law of love, and not merely self-interest, greed or ambition, governs our individual and collective existence, inspires our policies and regulates our social structures and institutions. The world’s hunger for food will only be satisfied when man learns to hunger for God: for His love and His justice.

 

3. ‘Koinonia’ of the Early Christians—and ours?

This truth was clearly understood by the early Christians. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that “they went as a body to the Temple every day and met in their houses for the breaking of bread.” And the passage goes on at once to say: “They shared their food gladly and generously…. They sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each needed.” The message is clear and simple. The direct consequence of, as well as the condition for, their praying together and sharing the Bread of the Lord together in the Eucharist, was to share what they had in common so that no one was in want.

 

The same message is forcibly expressed by St. John in one word: komoma. It can be translated as “communion” or “fellowship.” Both use the same word to describe three different levels of fellowship.

 

— First, our fellowship with the Father, with God. “If we say we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth.”

 

— Secondly, our fellowship with Christ through the Eucharist. “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ.”

 

— Thirdly, our fellowship with each other that leads us to share what we have with others. “If any of the saints are in need you must share with them.”

 

But the important point is that these three fellowships—all expressed by the same word koinonia— are really only one. They are different aspects of the same “communion” or “sharing with,” and cannot be separated from each other. Thus we cannot have fellowship with God unless we have fellowship with each other. And the Eucharist is the visible bond which both signifies this fellowship and helps to bring it about. It effectively recalls and proclaims our communion with God and with our fellow men.

 

This rediscovery of what might be called the “social dimension” of the Eucharist is of tremendous significance today. We once again see Holy Communion as the Sacrament of our brotherhood and unity. We share in a meal together, eating the same bread from the same table. And St. Paul tells us clearly: “The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.” In the Eucharist, in other words, we receive not only Christ the Head of the Body, but its members as well.

 

This fact has immediate practical consequences, as St. Paul once again reminds us. “God has arranged the body so that … each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.” Wherever there is suffering in the body, wherever members of it are in want or oppressed, we, because we have received the same body and are part of it must be directly involved. We cannot opt out or say to a brother: “I do not need you. I will not help you.”

 

It should now be obvious why a Symposium on Hunger should be an integral and important part of an International Eucharistic Congress. Twelve years ago in his inaugural address at the Food and Health Seminar which was part of the 38th International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, Cardinal Gracias said: “To wish to unite all men in the partaking of ‘spiritual’ bread, without at the same time providing ‘material’ bread, is only a dream.” These words are more true than ever today. We cannot properly receive the Bread of Life without sharing bread for life with those in want.

 

And our concern must, by its very nature, be world-wide. Just as the body we share belongs to all peoples and knows no barriers of race, wealth, class or culture, so our commitment to its members must be equally universal. The table of the Lord which we sit round is, today, the table of the world. Our neighbor is now not only the man set upon by thieves whom we pass on the roadside, but also the scores of men, women and children who pass across our TV screens with swollen bellies and sunken eyes and bodies racked by disease or torture. These are our brothers and sisters and we are bound to them by the Eucharist.

 

4. Practical Action

What should we do? You again will know better than I that there are many things we can do, many degrees of commitment and involvement. We will doubtless be discussing them in detail during our sessions this afternoon. But let something concrete come out from this Congress as a whole, something that can be acted on at once by ordinary people in their everyday lives, something that will be a sign of our universal love and solidarity with Christ suffering hunger in the world today, something that will be a pledge of our effective will to satisfy that hunger. Let us show in a concrete way to the world—to international organizations, to governments and politicians, to those who are losing hope and who are tempted by hatred, violence and despair—that we still believe in the power of love to build a more just and human society.

 

Some years ago the Eucharistic fast from midnight which, as my older listeners will remember, used to be a condition for receiving Holy Communion, was abolished. In 1966, looking at the whole question of fasting, Pope Paul declared that fasting and abstinence should be both a witness to asceticism and a means for helping the poor. What I wish to propose is the reintroduction, on a voluntary basis, of a different type of Eucharistic fast, not now so much for ascetical reasons, but as a token of our commitment to world justice and a concrete expression of our solidarity with the hungry and oppressed.

 

In preparation for this Eucharistic Congress, many families have taken part in “Operation Rice Bowl,” fasting for one day or one meal per week and donating the money saved to provide food for the hungry or the means with which to produce it. Similar practices have been adopted in other countries and by members of other religions. We ourselves have been invited to make today a day of fast and concern for the world’s starving and to share tonight in a “Poor Man’s Supper.” I propose that henceforth some practice such as this becomes an integral part of our reception of the Eucharist so that whenever we share the Bread of Life round the Table of the Lord we will also share bread for life with the hungry of the world.

 

If this challenge were taken up merely by Roman Catholics and in the United States alone and if the amount saved only averaged out at one dollar per person per week, this would reach the huge sum of over two and a half billion dollars a year. This figure is more than twice the amount the new International Fund for Agricultural Development, created as a top priority at the 1974 World Food Conference, has been able to raise so far. Of course the problem of world hunger cannot be solved by money alone. It would be harmful and irresponsible to over-simplify a problem which, as we have already seen, is complex and difficult. The value of what I am proposing is not so much in the money that could thus be saved and made available for the world’s poor, but rather in the concrete example that this would offer of our love and solidarity and of our willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to satisfy the hunger of the world.

 

I wish to make this appeal for a concrete expression of our effective solidarity and willingness to help not just to Catholics or Americans, but to all men of goodwill throughout the world. For though motivations may differ, world hunger is a problem that concerns not only Catholics and Christians, not only those who believe in God, but all believers in the value of human love and solidarity. Such a concrete example of true solidarity, cutting across religions and races and nations, could inspire and render more effective other international efforts and also lead us to other and more deep commitments. If this appeal is taken up and acted upon, then the ambition to eliminate hunger within our lifetime need not be such a distant dream after all.

 

5. Conclusion: Share your bread with the hungry

Brothers and Sisters, the world we live in is full of injustice, hatred and violence. Everywhere we look we are confronted by what the Synod of Bishops described as: “a network of domination, oppression and abuses which stifle freedom and which keep the greater part of humanity from sharing in the building up and enjoyment of a more just and more fraternal world.” Yet we have an answer which gives us hope and joy. It is the Eucharist, the symbol of Christ’s love for man. The task of this Congress is to share that love and translate it into effective action. Without some action, such as that I have proposed, will our Eucharistic Congress have any real message for the world? A message, that is, which modern man will listen to and believe in? Without some tangible evidence of our concern for others, what witness can we give?

 

And this great country which has hosted our Congress and is celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of its independence, has it the courage, the determination, the generosity to give the world the lead it is looking for?

 

There was a time when the new land of America was able to say to other countries across the sea:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp besides the golden door.

 

Today the majority of the world’s tired, poor, homeless or hungry may never set eyes on the Statue of Liberty. But they need and have a right to what it stands for: a right to freedom, to justice, to eat. They need and have a right to just and generous international policies which call for enlightened leadership by this and other wealthy countries. They need and have a right to a new international order of things.

 

And if this calls for sacrifices on our part, will we hold back? Is not this precisely what fasting means? It is the Lord himself who tells us:

Is not this the sort of fast that pleases me

it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks—

to break unjust fetters

and undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and break every yoke,

to share your bread with the hungry

and shelter the homeless poor,

to clothe the man you see to be naked

and not to turn from your own kin?

 

This is what the full celebration of the Eucharist means in the world of today. Let us not forget that it is only when, in faith and love, we give away the little that we have—a few loaves and fishes—that God blesses our poor efforts and in His omnipotence multiplies them to meet the hunger of the world. Let us not forget that it was only after the widow had given Elijah some food, even from the little she possessed, that God came to her rescue. And Elijah was a complete stranger to her, from another country and worshiping a different God. In the same way, it was only in sharing their bread with a stranger that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus recognized and found the Lord.

 

 

 

Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Eucharist and Hunger,” pg. 171–181.