Fr Tom Writes

Hi, this is my message to the Parish this week,

The Friday just passed was the CAFOD Lenten Fast Day. CAFOD stands for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. It is the charity of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales to help bring development and aid to struggling parts of the world. Every Lent and Advent, they hold a national Fast Day and ask their representatives to read a set text to parishes across the country. The purpose of this text is to provoke us into giving and to share their work in changing people’s lives around the world. Last Sunday, Hilary Farey gave her characteristic fantastic appeal, with her trade mark enthusiasm and punchiness. But despite her approach what she said left me feeling very sad. Two comments Hilary made really struck me, they may have struck you too.

The first was when she said ‘Fr Tom has been exhorting us to fast and abstain in Lent but for many people in the world fasting is not a choice but a daily reality’. I cannot convey how humbled and sad I felt. For all our choosing to fast, we have the luxury and privilege of that choice. It is a choice because we are super privileged, if we don’t eat well that is a choice, which of the many named supermarkets we choose to go to is a luxury. For millions, if they are lucky enough to have food, they may have no choice over what they eat. I remember a very humbling experience when I went to Uganda for a missionary experience in 2003.

I was bored to death by the white or brown maize that accompanied every single meal. To me it was tasteless and depressing to eat meal after meal after meal, it was sometimes accompanied by the luxury of chicken but it was so rubbery you had to chew it for ages just to swallow it. One day we went out into the bush in the north of the country, in the Karamajong region, to do about thirty Baptisms. For the celebration, the local community cooked a goat. The goat was amazing and it was seasoned beautifully. As a guest of honour, I was given one of the first helpings of goat and a big dollop of white tasteless maize. Having eaten my fill, I put my plate to one side only for a young girl to snatch it from me and lick the discarded bones clean and to eat the maize I did not want to finish. I felt firmly put in my privileged place. The injustice and inequality I felt from seeing how those people lived has never left me, it is like a nagging voice in the back of my head. That girl and her community, while having little, had food. Millions in our world have no food.

To get that point across, Hilary ended her talk by saying that during the time she had spoken four children would have died around the world from malnutrition and the diseases that accompany it. That hit me hard. It didn’t stop me going out for a nice Sunday lunch with a friend but it has knocked my complacency. If you add that statistic to the 45 million people in slavery around the globe and the 200,000 homeless in the U.K., the lives we lead can seem farcically over privileged. Our worries and concerns about what to eat, what to wear, where to live can seem a little grotesque. While we are not going to sell up and give the proceeds to the poorest of our world we have so much we can give them. Thanks to the many aid agencies, including CAFOD, who serve the poorest, we have every means at our disposal to do so. Have a Happy Lent!

Fr Tom