by Father Mark Goldasich
Call us dumb and dumber.
The place: Rome. The time: late June 1978.
Fellow seminarian Mike Curran, from Brooklyn, and I had just survived our first year of theological studies, done all in Italian. It was now time for a monthlong summer of European travel.
Armed with Eurail passes and our travel bible, “Europe on $5 a Day,” we ate a hearty breakfast at the North American College before heading to the train station. Dumb (Mike) asked Dumber (me), “Do you think we need to take anything with us to eat or drink?”
“Naw,” I replied, “we’ll be fine.”
Who would need any nourishment when our first stop, West Berlin, was a mere 17-and-a-half hours away? We’d had breakfast, would sleep eight hours on the train and could surely survive some nine-plus hours without food or drink.
About three hours in, I got thirsty and headed to the train’s restroom sink to grab some water. Imagine my shock on seeing the sign: “Acqua non potabile” (“nondrinkable water”). No problem, I thought, we’ll buy some provisions at the next stop.
As the train halted at the platform, refreshment carts swarmed outside. Seeing the exorbitant prices of things, we clung to our money instead. Unfortunately, that didn’t slake our thirst or quiet growling stomachs.
About five hours later in northern Italy, an elderly man and woman entered our compartment. We’d barely gotten under way when they brought out their lunch: delicious crusty bread, salami, cheese and wine. We must have looked desperately hungry (or maybe it was my copious tears at the sight of food), because this generous couple offered to share their meal. It was delicious, complemented by much laughter, conversation and wine.
Honestly, that was the first time I’d experienced gnawing hunger. And only for several hours. I’ve never forgotten that feeling and, since then, have been acutely conscious of those who endure the tragedy of hunger.
It’s fitting to mark World Food Day during Respect Life Month. The United Nations established this Oct. 16 celebration to “heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.” According to the U.N., food is a “requisite for human survival and well-being and a fundamental human necessity.”
Probably few consider hunger a “life” issue, but it is. In the United States in 2020, Feeding America reports that more than 38 million people, 12 million of them children, faced hunger. Obviously, worldwide statistics are more horrible: 811 million people suffer hunger due to war, weather disasters or COVID.
Food is often taken for granted. From sporting events to wedding receptions to overflowing pantries and refrigerators, we’re never far from something to nosh on. Because most of the world doesn’t have that luxury, it’s up to us as Christians to act.
A simple first step is to say grace before and after every meal or snack, to see all food as a blessing from God. Next, let’s make sure to keep our food waste to a minimum, instead of its present 30-40% .
Locally, donate to organizations like Catholic Charities’ Family Support Centers by picking up some “extras” to share every time we go grocery shopping. Nationally and internationally, make a financial donation to Catholic Relief Services, Caritas or Bread for the World.
This Respect Life Month, may our reflections on the issue of hunger provide plenty of food for thought.