Food Fast: Parishes Promote Unity

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A poster made by a youth group is displayed at Our Holy Redeemer Church in Freeport, N.Y. The hunger awareness program focuses on global poverty and justice. Photo by Mari Barboza/CRS

CRS program officer Maria Barboza writes about her Food Fast experience:

It is a beautiful spring day. As I approach the first church I’ll be visiting. I feel good about the day of fasting we are about to begin. My first stop is the church of the Holy Redeemer, in the Diocese of Rockville Center, Long Island, one of 25 parishes participating in CRS’ Food Fast program.

I meet Deacon Cales, the organizer of the event, on the front steps of the brick building of the pastoral center. At the door, I see familiar faces from last year’s fast. They are the members of the youth group that organizes the event. Deacon Cales speaks about the meaning of the day, “to be in unity with our brothers and sisters around the world who suffer from hunger”. He reminds us that “fasting for a day is good” but that we need to think about “those who don’t know if they will be able to eat before the sun goes down in the evening.” We will break the fast at 5 p.m.

Brother James, the director of Evangelization for the diocese says, “this is where the seed for this day was planted, and now it’s spread to all of Long Island. The meeting starts and after the prayer, we break out in song. I don’t know this song, but am able to join in. Singing is such a wonderful part of worship and I love the lively rhythm and verses in Spanish. What a good way to start our day.

Deacon Cales signals that it is time to visit another community. St Anne’s in Brentwood. We walk up to the church and it is full to the brim. Families with loved ones of all ages are singing away. I see Fr. Gonzalo, a young priest. I met him before he was ordained. We had attended a leadership conference a few months earlier. It is exciting to see him leading his congregation.

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The pews are overflowing at Our Holy Redeemer Church in Freeport, N.Y., during a CRS Food Fast event. Photo by Mari Barboza/CRS

After mass we go to the hall where the fast is being held. The youth group, organizers of the Food Fast, are wearing distinctive light blue t-shirts. The room is plastered with their handmade posters of spiritual works of mercy. There is a table with many symbols, a cross, candles with the image of our Holy Mother painted on them, the box for the offerings. There is great music here too: several singers, a keyboard, speakers, and guitars. The youth invited various groups in the parish to take responsibility for different sections of the program.

The first speaker talks about the importance of fasting, “offering the body and the spirit to the Lord and trusting that He will sustain us.” He also talks about the need to do “fasting, prayer and works of mercy” together, because one is incomplete without the others. The crowd numbers around 80 and is made up of people of all ages.

We go on to another parish St Mathew’s and arrive to small groups sharing their experiences. A young man says that after a few hours of fasting he “hears the rumbling in his belly.” As a result, he said, he “can put himself in the shoes of those that don’t have.” I am starting to feel rumblings in my own belly.

At St. Peter Alcantara, we listen to the testimony of a man who struggled with addiction but was able to overcome it. Then we pray Mary mother of Migrants, and see images of mothers around the world. The prayer reminds me when I was a child and prayed to Mary in the chapel of my school. Her face was very European. I’ve never thought of Mary as the mother in Africa, Guatemala or Afghanistan. It is comforting see her in all these faces.

Then we see powerful photographs of the faces of hunger: malnourished children, war-torn communities, immigrants laying face down on the ground. A beautiful song plays in the background. A man shares how deeply touched he is by these images and the song. He says he knows that he will eat later, but that those pictured don’t have that option. I also feel a strong emotion. In my years of work with CRS I have seen people who are poor, refugees, people living with HIV, but these images are hard to watch.

It is finally 5 p.m. and we finish the day back at the Holy Redeemer. It is a good day. I fasted, prayed and sang and was able to share my testimony of the work our church does around the world through CRS. Personally, it was a pilgrimage to meet people of faith from all corners of Latin America. It was a gift to witness the deep faith and energy of the Hispanic community who had come together to pray, fast and be in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world. I am looking forward to next year and to see how each of these parishes will make their day of fasting special.

– Maria Barboza

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