Faith to bear on politics during Pope Francis' visit this month

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Pope Francis. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

By Stephen H. Padre

Bread for the World is an organization made up of Christians from a wide variety of traditions. Rarely does it allow one denomination – let alone a single person (except for Jesus) – to set the tone for a while. Yet Pope Francis has been a force of nature since he ascended to the papacy only two years ago, and Bread is grabbing on to his cassock tails as he visits the U.S. later this month and hopefully calls Americans of all faiths to end hunger and poverty in our time.

Francis’ U.S. visit will capture the attention of not only American Catholics, but also the broader religious community, the president, Congress, the secular public, and world leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The pope is expected to refocus the country’s attention on the plight of the world’s poor. 

On the eve of his arrival in Washington, D.C., the first stop on Francis’ trip, Bread will gather many of the country’s top leaders of many faiths – not only Christian but Jewish, Muslim, and others – to welcome him to the nation’s capital. Bread will host the Interfaith Religious Leaders Summit, titled “End Hunger by 2030.” The dinner-hour summit will take place Sept. 21.

More than 100 faith leaders have been invited to the summit. They include heads of denominations and religious bodies, CEOs of faith-based agencies, and seminary presidents.

The pope’s visit comes at a critical point on the road to ending hunger. The campaign to choose the major parties’ nominees for U.S. president is well underway, and Bread is involved in efforts to push the candidates to address its issues through the Circle of Protection coalition. Bread wants to use this opportunity to drum up and consolidate support among faith communities across the country for ending hunger by 2030.

Ending hunger by 2030 will require having political leaders in place much earlier than that – by 2017. In January of that year, the U.S. will have a new president and a new Congress, and Bread has started to push candidates for these offices to make hunger and poverty a priority during their time in office.

The other major political part of Francis’ U.S. visit will play out in New York, where he will address the U.N. General Assembly. The body will be considering adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, which Bread hopes will also steer the world’s nations toward elimination of chronic hunger and poverty over the next 15 years.

At the Washington, D.C., interfaith summit, Rev. David Beckmann, Bread’s president, will deliver remarks. Also on the program are short addresses by several other faith leaders as pledges to the 2030 goal of ending hunger. The summit will produce a written pledge by the faith leaders that will be shared with the media the following morning at a press conference. Speaking at the press conference will be Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. Wuerl, whose city and archdiocese are hosting the pope on his first stop, is helping to plan Francis’ overall visit. Wuerl is an adviser to Francis as a member of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See.

Overall, the welcome summit of religious leaders as well as the visit itself of Francis to three East Coast cities will encapsulate a large part of what Bread is about. The papal visit will inspire the religious community to take action. Bread is hoping the new energy that emerges will result in a large-scale mobilization of people of faith to push the federal government – and candidates for office – to do their part in ending hunger. Thanks to Francis, faith and politics will come together.

Stephen H. Padre is editor of Bread newsletter and managing editor for Bread for the World.

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