Africana Plus  

No 70 March-02 2006.3

Lent and those in extreme poverty


In a letter written to all Missionaries of Africa, one of our major superiors invites us to take an active part in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals recognised by the United Nations. He encourages us to embark on a world campaign geared towards convincing  policy-makers in the whole world to use all the means at their disposal to put an end to extreme poverty and hunger, especially child hunger. Let all of us Missionaries of Africa dare everyone around us, particularly our parents and friends to take up this challenge. Will you enter the fray? M.F.

Last year, the JPIC commission of USG/UISG (the conference of male and female Religious Superiors in Rome) decided that the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) should become a basic reference point for all initiatives in the area of Justice and Peace. One of the reasons for this is because these are universally recognized standards agreed by the United Nations and all member states. They also provide a comprehensive way of assessing progress in the areas of economic and social development. Governments, NGOs, development agencies, even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, make reference to these when proposing policies or monitoring progress in any social or economic area. Another advantage of using this framework is that each goal has been broken down into definite targets to be achieved within a given time frame.

The purpose of this letter is to explain the first goal set by world leaders and to propose actions that we individually, or as communities, might like to take in the coming months. The primary objective is to promote participation in a worldwide campaign, encouraging policy-makers to focus more of their resources and efforts on ending child hunger. Acting in partnership with others is one way of raising awareness of the problem, making some contribution.

This letter is also intended to provide an opportunity to reflect together in community on other ways in which we can be more present to the poor, especially schoolchildren in Africa, in our prayer, in Eucharistic celebrations and through other acts of solidarity.

Charity is necessary, but without tackling the roots of the problem of hunger and poverty also, future generations in Africa will suffer too. AEFJN/AFJN are some of the networks we use to lobby for change. Perhaps we could also use this Lenten period to reflect on ways in which we can participate more fully in this movement for structural change.


Catholic Social Teaching and the Poor

‘When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.’ Saint Gregory the Great

‘A consistent theme of Catholic Social Teaching is the option or love of preference for the poor. Today, this preference has to be expressed in worldwide dimensions, embracing the immense numbers of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care, and those without hope.’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987

‘At the beginning of the New Millennium, the poverty of billions of men and women is the one issue that most challenges our human and Christian consciences.’ John Paul II, Message for the 2000 World Day of Peace

‘Before the Lord of history and the future of the world, the poor of every generation and today, the ever-increasing number of victims of injustice and all the forgotten of this world challenge us. They remind us of Christ's agony, until the end of the world. These sufferings cannot remain extraneous to the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery which summons all of us to work for justice and the transformation of the world in an active and conscious fashion, on the basis of the social teaching of the Church that promotes the centrality and the dignity of the human person.’

Final message, Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist,22nd October 2005

The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger is the key element of economic and social development. It is the very reason for sustainable development programmes. So many other issues cannot be tackled because of the dire poverty that affects so many in Africa. Many of us have experienced firsthand the devastating effects of poverty and our faith demands that we respond to this tragedy.

What are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent an agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives set by world leaders at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. For each goal one or more targets have been set, most for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark.

The Goals

1 - Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2 - Achieve universal primary education

3 - Promote gender equality and empower women

4 - Reduce child mortality

5 - Improve maternal health

6 - Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7 - Ensure environmental sustainability

8 - Develop a global partnership for development

By ‘clicking’ on any of the above goals, you can find out more about it via the Internet. A fuller explanation of MDGs can be found on the  website/.

In 2005, a worldwide review was carried out to monitor the progress (or lack of it) of all countries in achieving these targets. Other related issues like debt forgiveness, fair trade and development aid are important for ensuring long-term  development in African countries. However, the MDGs provide a clear focus on how countries, in both the North and South, are committing themselves to making progress in the immediate future.

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

For the first goal two targets have been set and agreed internationally.

Target 1: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.

Target 2: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

These are the promises made by all 191 member states of the United Nations.

Proposed Action

As a demonstration of our commitment to eradicate extreme poverty (especially target 2 above), USG/UISG and Caritas Internationalis have decided to join the World Food Programme (WFP) in a day of global action. Many other Churches, Islamic organisations and NGOs are also backing this worldwide campaign as a demonstration of solidarity.

On 21st May 2006, it is planned to have over one million people participate in walks in 325 locations to raise funds and remind politicians about their commitment to the poor. The walk will begin at 10.00 and take place over 24 hours and 24 time zones that day, starting in Auckland, New Zealand. Events are also planned in Africa. Last year over 201,000 people walked in 91 countries and raised enough money to feed 70,000 school children for one year! The campaign is called ‘Fight hunger, Walk the World’.

We, as Missionaries of Africa, could also participate in this walk or support it in some other way. By visiting we can find out where walks are taking place near our communities. This would be one visible way of showing that we are part of a movement for change and that we care. For those who are unable to participate in this way, there is another way of assisting from your computers.

TNT, an international express mail and logistics company, has decided to support and sponsor this Walk. By visiting the site above, you will trigger a sponsor’s donation of 19 cents. This is enough for one school meal in Africa. Doing this daily would be one small way of helping school feeding programmes in Africa. This does not mean that we endorse this company, but we can avail of the opportunity it offers.


These are small concrete ways in which we can assist. There may be others. However, we are all challenged to make this concern for the poor more present in our prayer and Eucharistic celebrations. Perhaps, during the coming Lenten period, we might reflect together on ways to give expression to this in prayer and in action.

Some communities in the past have nominated a project in Africa to express solidarity with a particular situation. I hope that we will also discuss this in our communities and see how we, as communities, show our solidarity with Africa.

Charity is necessary, but also there is the imperative to bring to world attention the tragedy of child hunger in Africa and the unfulfilled promises made by our political leaders. As Saint Gregory reminded us, all of us are called to repay this debt of justice.


Jim Greene,  M. Afr.

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