“Lord, when did we see you hungry…?”


When I lived in Uganda, I took a trip to Kidepo national park, located in the far north eastern region of Uganda known as the Karamoja region, which shares its borders with South Sudan and Kenya’s Rift Valley. Accustomed to the lush green landscape that covers much of Uganda, I was mesmerised by the scorched, arid, vastness of this region and stunned by the intensity of the experiences of poverty by those living within its boundaries. Karamoja is the most marginalised region in the country and home to some of the world’s poorest.

While travelling through Karamoja, I stayed a night in a town called Kotido to visit the Mill Hill missionaries stationed at the Catholic parish in Panyangara. During the visit, I noticed scores of women and children walking for many miles carrying heavy loads of millet and sorghum on their heads that had been donated by the parish. An image that has continued to haunt me during and since my visit, is that of an elderly Karamojong woman seated on the ground separating leaves from the branches of a tree. I was enlightened by my guide Fr. Sylvester, that this woman and her family had no access to food. When food is no longer available, women turn to boiling leaves to alleviate the pangs of hunger. During my visit, it was hot and dry with the rivers, streams, lakes and other natural water sources parched, there were few leaves left on the trees, and no signs of the rains to come. I have spent almost 2 decades living and working in different African countries before my visit to Karamoja, yet this was my first real encounter with the face of acute hunger and is not an image I could ever want to forget.

This morning as I opened my laptop, that memory resurfaced. A new UN backed report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) has revealed that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where some 1.1 million people will face “catastrophic levels of hunger” in the next 6 weeks. The people in Gaza, we are told are eating grass to survive. Adding to this crisis is the continuing denial of the necessary humanitarian support by land that would reach those in most need and avert a potentially irreversible disaster. I was deeply scared by the words of the head of UNWRA, Philippe Lazzarini who said: “This man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity.”

In Fratelli Tutti (60), Pope Francis reminds us of our duty towards our collective humanity, where in “…the New Testament, Hillel’s precept was expressed in positive terms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12). This command is universal in scope, embracing everyone on the basis of our shared humanity…”. Pope Francis also prompts, that as Christians, this meaning goes even deeper, that we are to “recognize Christ himself in each of our abandoned or excluded brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:40.45)”.

I have been numbed by the horror that I see unfolding in Gaza since the Hamas attack on Israel nearly 6 months ago. I am stunned by the arguments and counter arguments that continue to blur the reality on the ground that innocent women, children and men are dying, starving, have lost their homes, have restricted access to appropriate healthcare, sanitation, clean water, rights and above all, dignity. That young people will grow up traumatised in an uncertain future having lost parents and other family members, not knowing where they will live or who will take care of them, should have us all scarred. While we watch this, and the many other conflicts and wars across the world, we need to be challenged by the prophetic voice in the Gospel of Matthew (25:39-40): “When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least of my people, you did for me.”