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World Food Program Director on Lent

VATICAN CITY ( - Here is the statement Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, gave today at the press conference the presented Benedict XVI's message for Lent.

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I would like to offer profound thanks to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for inviting the World Food Program to participate in this special event. We very much appreciate the Holy Father’s support for the work we do. And thank you Cardinal Cordes, and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum for your assistance.

By drawing our attention to voluntary fasting, as His Holiness encourages us to do this Lent, we can be helped to remember that hunger is on the march worldwide. Serving the hungry is a moral call that unites people of all faiths. Every major religion urges their believers to be a Good Samaritan and to choose to help others. The Prophet Isaiah says: "And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday" (58:10).

I would like to assure each and every one of you that when it comes to hunger, you can make a difference. Feeding the hungry is a profound act of love, and restores dignity to a mother or father who cannot provide for their starving child. Mahatma Ghandi said that to a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God. Let us believe in the miracle of a world without hunger. Does not the heart of Christ encompass such a noble vision among the faithful?

And it is an achievable goal. We could cut hunger among school children virtually overnight if enough people came forward to help. The World Food Program delivers such hope to 20 million school children, working closely with various faith-based groups.

At this time of worldwide economic challenges, let us not forget that the food and financial crises hit the world’s most vulnerable the hardest. Since 2007, 115 million were added to the ranks of the hungry to create a total of nearly one billion people without adequate food. That is one in six people on earth. But this is not a problem of food availability. It is a problem of distribution -- and of greed, discrimination, wars and other tragedies. There is enough food on earth for every human to have adequate access to a nutritious diet. This is indeed a challenge for the human heart.

This is a critical moment. While all families must make some sacrifices, for the poorest of the poor that means going without meals -- for a day, or two, or three. This dramatic reduction in nutrition is particularly alarming for children under two years old, where it is proven that nutritional deprivation will stunt their minds and bodies for life. Today, a child dies every six seconds from hunger.

The question is: Is there anything that can be done to alleviate the humiliation, pain and injustice of hunger? Are there solutions that help people break the hunger trap for themselves, once and for all? The answer is overwhelmingly "yes." We have the tools and technology to make this happen, and we have seen it happen in many places around the world.

Allow me to give you some examples. The World Food Program went into Darfur in 2003 when villages were still burning. Millions of people were terrorized and faced starvation. In what I call a modern day miracle, the world refused to stand by and let the displaced people of Darfur starve. Today, through the generosity of many nations -- and the bravery of our humanitarian workers -- WFP feeds 3 million people a day trapped far from their homes in the desolate and dangerous desert. The world has prevented -- for less than fifty cents a day per person -- mass starvation in Darfur.

A more recent crisis broke out in sixty nations, including Senegal, following the most aggressive increase in global food prices in recorded history last year. High prices have left an estimated 40 percent of rural households in Senegal in danger of hunger and malnutrition. The World Food Program deployed innovative programs to not only provide food to 2 million people, but also to empower them to feed themselves.

One exciting example of innovation is what I call the "Salt Ladies of Senegal." Senegal is a food-deficit nation, but produces a surplus of salt. The problem is the salt is not fortified with iodine, and Senegal has an epidemic of iodine-deficiency disorders, such as goiter, which inflicts lasting damage on children’s minds and bodies. WFP decided to purchase all its salt from 7,000 village producers and give them the tools to iodize the salt. The result is a true win-win-win. The women have a steady income, we get iodized salt for our programs, and they also sell iodized salt now to their villages, helping to fight the disorder. An example of helping local people to help themselves, safeguarding always the personal dignity of those we serve. In fact, last year WFP bought over $1 ...

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