In a world where information is brought instantly to our fingertips, society is becoming increasingly anesthetized to the suffering brought about by poverty, Pope Francis told the United Nations's World Food Programme on Monday.
“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,” the Pope said during the visit to the WFP Rome headquarters. “All those human lives turn into one more news story.”
In prepared remarks delivered in his native Spanish, the pontiff said the global interconnectedness created by modern communications technologies has led to an “information overload” which is increasingly making us “immune to other people's tragedies.”
“It is not enough to offer broad reflections or engage in endless discussion, constantly repeating things everyone knows.”
Francis' June 13 visit to the Rome headquarters of the WFP marked his first ever as pontiff. The Pope delivered two addresses during his time at the headquarters, the first during the Annual Session of WFP’s Executive Board.
The visit comes in the first year of the UN agency's 17 Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate the root causes of poverty and hunger, and its aim of achieving Zero Hunger by 2030.
In his address, Francis called for concrete action on the part of institutions like the WFP to “de-naturalize” extreme poverty in the public consciousness.
“Why? Because poverty 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.” This “face,” he said, is also seen in those who are unemployed, migrants, etc.
When poverty “no longer has a face,” it becomes easy to look at hunger, food, and violence as concepts which are separated from the real people asking for help, the Pope said.
“Without faces and stories, human lives become statistics and we run the risk of bureaucratizing the sufferings of others,” he said. “Bureaucracies shuffle papers; compassion deals with people.”
Francis emphasized the need to “denaturalize” poverty, and criticized the consumerism which leads to food waste in a world where people are starving.
“We have made the fruits of the earth — a gift to humanity — commodities for a few, thus engendering exclusion,” he said. “The consumerism in which our societies are immersed has made us grow accustomed to excess and to the daily waste of food.”
“We need to be reminded that food discarded is, in a certain sense stolen, from the table of poor and the starving.”
The Pope went on to stress the urgent need to “Debureaucratize” hunger in the face of armed conflicts which have sidelined “other ways of resolving the issues at hand.”
“This approach is so deeply engrained and taken for granted that it prevents food supplies from being distributed in war zones, in violation of the most fundamental and age-old principles and rules of international law,” he said.
Francis criticized the sale of arms worldwide, and its contribution to poverty. “As a result, wars are fed, not persons. In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war.”
The death toll of people dying from hunger is added to the other casualties of war, he said.
“We are fully aware of this, yet we allow our conscience to be anesthetized. We become desensitized. Force then becomes our one way of acting, and power becomes our only goal.”
The pontiff acknowledged the WFP's role in mobilizing initiatives which are concerned with the “faces” of people who suffer.
“The WFP is an excellent example of how one can work throughout the world to eradicate hunger through a better allotment of human and material resources, strengthening the local community,” he said.
Francis explained that it is in fidelity to the mission of the Catholic Church to wish “to cooperate with every initiative that defends and protects the dignity of persons, especially of those whose rights are violated.”
He cited the words of Jesus, “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”
“A people plays out its future by its ability to respond to the hunger and thirst of its brothers and sisters. In that ability to come to the aid of the hungry and thirsty, we can measure the pulse of our humanity.”
After addressing the WFP assembly, Pope Francis delivered a second address to the agency's employees and their families, this time entirely off-the-cuff and in Italian.
Although a speech had been prepared, the Pope joked that “speeches are boring,” and said he would rather speak “spontaneously from the heart” in the language of the country.
The pontiff thanked those present for their “hidden” work and sacrifices behind the scenes which make the fight against hunger possible.
“You are the feet, hands, supporting the the courage of all those who go forward, who also supported the courage of the 'martyrs', so to speak, of your witnesses.”