Hunger in a world of plenty

Everyone has been hit in the pocketbook over the last year or so thanks to rapidly rising prices for just about everything in life: fuel, clothing, utilities, house repairs.

And food. It’s the one essential we can’t do without.

Numerous worldwide events since 2006 have forced food prices up significantly, whether it’s at the grocery store or at the farm market. The impact of weather, civil wars, increased meat production, the price of oil, speculation by futures traders and the rush to shift crops once used almost exclusively for food toward biofuels has impacted global food prices.

In the U.S., most people have been able to keep up, even if it means cutting nonessentials from the household budget. But for 1 billion people around the world who live on less than $2 a day, the doubling and tripling of prices for basics such as rice, corn and wheat has put them in dire circumstances. Riots over food erupted in some parts of the world earlier this year.

Maria Wiering, a reporter for The Catholic Spirit of St. Paul, Minn., is exploring in three editions this summer what some are calling a global food crisis. Her first piece opens with a broad look at the the causes of the shortage.

It’s not just the poor around the world who are feeling the burdens of the food shortage. Hunger centers and food pantries in the U.S. also are feeling a pinch as donations drop and budgets to purchase food are spread thinner.

Diocesan newspapers have caught on to the trend and have offered reports on the plight of some food centers. The Catholic Standard in Washington, this week reports on how one food bank in southern Maryland is facing a “very, very troubling” food shortage.

Elsewhere, the Catholic Times in Springfield, Ill., tells the story of how one Knights of Columbus council is helping keep the shelves of Catholic Charities’ Holy Family Food Pantry well stocked in tough times.

And The Messenger in Belleville, Ill., looks at the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Cosgrove Kitchen in East St. Louis, Ill., in keeping poor people fed

Food banks everywhere are feeling the crunch as well, leaving many poor people wondering from where their next meal will come.

Benedict and Bressanone

Near Bressanone in Northern Italy

Near Bressanone in Northern Italy

Before ending his two-week summer sojourn in Bressanone on Monday, Pope Benedict received honorary citizenship from municipal officials. Residents of the northern Italian town are hoping the tribute will give the pontiff one more reason to come back next year.

Bressanone (also known as Brixen in English) is nestled in the South Tirol and has a lot going for it as a papal getaway spot. A Roman settlement that became a church stronghold in the Middle Ages, its historic center is well preserved and the surrounding countryside is dotted with abbeys, hermitages and shrines. Throw in the cool summer climate and spectacular views of the Dolomites, and what more could a pope ask for?

Pope Benedict is no stranger to these parts. Although this was his first stay in Bressanone as pope, he spent many summers here as a cardinal, writing, praying, meditating and playing piano — activities that formed much of his agenda this summer.

At the citizenship award ceremony, the pope gave a short talk that town officials may want to engrave on a large plaque somewhere. He described the first time he saw the distinctive towers of Bressanone, surrounded by vineyards and mountains, a place where history and beauty still thrived. “I knew then: This is a nice place!” He went on to call it a model for Europe, a town where Christian roots and identity are still present in the culture.

What the pope didn’t say was whether he’d be back, though he quipped that with his new Bressanone citizenship “even when I cannot come, I’ll still be in some way legally present.”

It was Pope John Paul II who began the tradition of spending part of the summer in the northern Italian mountains, and he would usually stay either in the Aosta Valley in northeastern Italy or the Alps in Italy’s northwest. Hosting the pope has been a publicity boon for those places, and this year Bressanone also found itself in the limelight, with more than 200 journalists accredited for the papal vacation there.

Last Sunday, chatting on-air with the Vatican spokesman, an Italian TV announcer posed the question that was on the minds of local inhabitants: Would Pope Benedict would make Bressanone his annual vacation spot? The spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, danced ably around the question, promising only that if he did return, the pope would know he was welcome.