FALL RIVER, Mass. — Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the global aid agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, is inviting American Catholics and others of goodwill to join and support its “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign — a multi-year effort to increase donations and advocacy on the issue.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, 135 million people around the world experienced acute hunger. Now, because of disruptions caused by the virus, the United Nations World Food Program is estimating the number of people suffering from acute hunger will almost double by the end of this year, totaling 265 million people. 

“This is an unprecedented time that we’re all facing with COVID-19,” said Sean Callahan, president and CEO of CRS. “We’re also though facing shadow pandemics that we know of in our own country and certainly hunger in the U.S. has become a key issue when we’ve seen many of the food banks reaching a higher proportion than they’ve ever had to reach before (and) a lot of people that are being affected. Similarly, we would like to get the word out even more that this is also occurring globally.”

To this end, Callahan said CRS’ “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign is aptly named.

“The Holy Father has called all of us and we have two choices,” Callahan said. “We can either turn inward or reach outward. As you know, the Church never closed. It didn’t stop its humanitarian assistance in the United States, it didn’t stop its pastoral outreach to communities in the United States, and it didn’t stop that overseas. The Church has been on the front line and as the Holy Father has often stated, he sees the Church as a field hospital.”

Despite dealing with the Coronavirus crisis here at home, Callahan hopes Catholics will not forget those overseas who are likewise struggling to survive during the pandemic.

“There’s an urgency right now and that’s what we’re called to do,” Callahan said. “The situation in the United States is worsening and the situation around the world is worsening. We know that one in every nine people goes to bed hungry in the world. That situation is now (escalating) and acute hunger is expected, according to the U.N., to double this year because of the Coronavirus.”

According to Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the USCCB is fully supportive of CRS’ “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign.

“I am one of a dozen bishops who sit on the board of CRS as representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and I am here today to reiterate our strong support for this campaign and its goals, addressing global hunger, advocacy and fund raising,” he said. “My brother bishops and I will be highlighting the ‘Lead the Way on Hunger’ campaign and its resources.” The bishops also shared in a global moment of prayer on May 24 at noon. That prayer around the globe was based on CRS’ “Lead the Way on Hunger” prayer. “It’s a very beautiful prayer. These are further examples of the bishops’ commitment and the broader Church’s respect for CRS and for this campaign,” added the archbishop.

Archbishop Hebda said the campaign is a way to live out Pope Francis’ call for “missionary discipleship.”

“Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do for the least of My brothers and sisters, you do for Me,’” Archbishop Hebda said. “Jesus has called us all to work to alleviate suffering, to create a more just world for the world’s poorest, most marginalized and most vulnerable people. This campaign is one of the outward expressions of our response to Christ’s example and His call.”

Claire McManus, director of Faith Formation and the director for CRS in the Fall River Diocese, had planned to introduce the “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign at this year’s Catholic Youth Day and to the participants at the Catholic Leadership Institute, but both were cancelled due to COVID-19.

“However, we are strategizing ways to keep the youth engaged in social justice and will use the resources CRS provides,” McManus told The Anchor. “I usually share these resources with the Religious Education coordinators so that they can use them in their programs. I always try to relate global issues of justice to our own local needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the food insecurity in our own local region and our churches have been instrumental in keeping food pantries open and soup kitchens going.”

In recent years, McManus has been the point person in the diocese for CRS efforts like Operation Rice Bowl and the “Share the Journey” campaign in 2018 that was integrated into Catholic Youth Day when participants joined in a solidarity walk on Martha’s Vineyard with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.

Although there isn’t an official CRS chapter here in the Fall River Diocese, McManus hopes to see one form in the future.

“If anyone is interested in taking part, they can contact me,” McManus said. “Much of the work that CRS does centers around advocacy — contacting our elected officials and asking them to support bills that address poverty relief. CRS has a training program to help people learn how they can engage their local officials. Many people are reluctant to speak up, but by being part of a chapter they would join their voices and have a greater impact.”

“We’re asking people to join in and advocate,” Callahan said. “Currently the U.S. government — and rightfully so — is reaching out to U.S. communities and providing economic support for those communities, trying to help people respond to this crisis time. We are asking that a small percentage of those funds be designated for overseas and we’re calling for a $12 billion proposal bill to come out to assist the overseas assistance, so all of our brothers and sisters will be prepared and will not be overwhelmed by this crisis.

“We are also asking people to join our campaign to celebrate what the Catholic Church is doing, to recognize what it’s doing, and to get the word out. We can help our brothers and sisters around the world, and we’ve had a track record of reducing poverty and hunger over the last 10 years or so. Unfortunately, that is spiking back up right now and we need to be on the forefront of addressing it through Church leadership, through U.S. leadership, and through the action of the people in the pews.”

Those interested can support CRS’ “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign in the following ways:

— Advocate by writing, calling or visiting with members of Congress to increase funding for global nutrition and other programs to prevent and end hunger; pass the Global Child Thrive Act to help children reach their God-given potential; and address our changing climate and the needs of our one human family. 

— Donate your time and resources to help support and increase CRS’ life-changing hunger solutions around the world; compel others to take part in and support our work overseas; and organize and publicize a community fund-raiser. 

— Inspire and motivate others to pray for our vulnerable brothers and sisters as a community; stand with and advocate for the world’s hungry; and learn about hunger and its solutions and educate community members on the issue. 

More information about the campaign can be found online at https://www.crs.org/get-involved/lead-way/hunger.

Those interested in working to establish a CRS chapter here in the Fall River Diocese should contact Claire McManus at cmcmanus@dfrcs.org