COMMENTARY: Cuts to food stamps flout the gospel message

In his first Advent address, Pope Francis directed Christians to be guided by the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise for the coming Christ child. She proclaims that God has “lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53). This past Tuesday, Pope Francis heeded his own exhortation by releasing a video message calling for an end to hunger as part of a worldwide “wave of prayer.”

Hundreds of Christian organizations across the globe participated in the “wave of prayer,” which was organized by Caritas International, a confederation of Catholic charities in the Vatican.

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“We are in front of a global scandal of around 1 billion people who still suffer from hunger today,” Pope Francis said in his message. “We cannot look the other way.” The wave began at noon on the Pacific island of Samoa and proceeded west with people of faith from each subsequent time zone participating at noon their time.

Participation in this global prayer wave spread well beyond the Catholic world. It drew support from across the ideological and theological spectrum. Young evangelicals prayed with Episcopal grandmothers. Protestants prayed with Roman Catholics.

In Washington, members of Congress from both parties held a noon prayer service with Circle of Protection, a group of 65 heads of denominations, relief and development agencies, and other Christian organizations.

Pope Francis’ call for prayer to end hunger could not have come at a more important time. While the world is near cutting hunger in the developing world in half by 2015, one in eight people all over the world still suffer from chronic hunger.

In our country, however, you do not see this global exodus from hunger. Rather, it is growing. Today, 17 million children will go hungry because their parents can’t afford to feed them one or more days each month. Nearly a million veterans who sacrificed so much in service to our country depend on food stamps so they can eat. Remarkably, at a time when one in four Americans say they have struggled to put food on the table, Congress has chosen to slash one of the most effective anti-hunger programs in the country, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps.

Congress’ recent cuts to SNAP will eliminate 10 million meals per day that American families and veterans have been depending on. Nearly 5 million of those meals would have gone to children — the equivalent of eliminating daily meals for every child in South Carolina, Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, and Mississippi.

These recent cuts to SNAP eliminate more meals than what Catholic Charities, churches, food pantries, and all other charities combined are able to provide with our already stretched resources. Churches and food pantries would need to more than double what they raise to fill the gap left by Congress’ cuts to SNAP. And now Congress is considering additional cuts that would be four to five times as large!

Such actions should be anathema to all Americans, and especially to Christians. Seeking to balance budgets on the backs of hungry children and veterans does not represent American values. It clearly doesn’t heed the gospel call to lift up the lowly and feed the hungry.

It’s time for a new direction. That is why Christians are coming together, not just to pray but also to witness to our leaders that we expect more from them. We believe our capacity to achieve is greater than the obstacles that are before us. Caring for the hungry in our midst is not an unattainable dream; it is the least we are called to do.

(The Rev. Larry Snyder is president of Catholic Charities USA. The Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World and a World Food Prize laureate. )

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