Father David Garcia wrote and recorded for broadcast the following Thanksgiving reflection.
As we Americans sit down to a bountiful dinner this Thanksgiving, there is always a little anxiety in the back of our minds that we are entering a season filled with all sorts of high calorie feasting. Come January the health clubs and gyms will be filled with the guilty who will be looking to shed a few of those unwanted pounds acquired during the annual holiday season. Obesity in this country is now at epidemic proportions, even reaching down to our children.
Recently I visited West Africa with Catholic Relief Services, the official humanitarian and development agency of the United States Catholic Church. I did not see any obese children. I did not really see any obese people period. Even the chicken I ordered at local restaurants was skinny. I would chew on a tough wiry leg and breast that did not have much meat, nothing like the huge breasts of our hormone-filled poultry here.
The chickens and the people of West Africa, and many other places in the developing world, are skinny because they are often hungry. In fact hunger and its consequences claims 43,000 people every single day, according to the U.N.
Most people in the developing world work in subsistence agriculture. The margins of life are tenuous. I saw many people every day bent over, working their small plots of land by hand. The land will yield just enough to survive in a good year. When the rains do not come or some disease or insect ravages the crop there is simply not enough to eat. Eating maybe every other day becomes routine. It is devastating for children.
Almost 9 million children under 5 will die this year in the developing world, from hunger related consequences, diarrhea, malaria and other causes, all preventable. In the face of all this, it seems many people have little hope.
What we saw happening in West Africa did give us some hope as CRS and other partners are working with the people to improve their farming. Seed fairs offer high quality seeds. Learning irrigation methods and capturing water gives hope during dry weather. Interspersing different crops helps ensure that there will be a variety to the harvest and better income. Clinics are being built and nurses are given housing nearby. People in the villages are enthusiastic about these projects and work hard to support them.
I came home from Africa with a lingering question in my mind: “Why was I not born there instead of here?” I can’t come up with a good answer to that question, but I do know what it means. Because I have so much and I have received so many blessings in comparison to so many others in the world, I am responsible in some way for them. I need to make room in my life for them. I need to pray for them, carry them in my heart, learn all I can about them, advocate for them with my government and I also need to share some of what I have directly with them. .
Thanksgiving is an important day to celebrate with friends and family and truly give thanks for blessings. This Thanksgiving will be different for me. I will remember my sisters and brothers in Africa and throughout the world who have little to eat, and I will commit to adjust my own lifestyle to make room for them this week and into the future.
If I do that, come January there won’t be any extra pounds to worry about.
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