Pope Francis: A Breath of Fresh Air

Pope_Francis_Korea_Haemi_Castle_19_(cropped)This month, Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Catholics, was breaking new ground when he made the statement, “People who started a new union after the defeat of their sacramental marriage are not at all excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way. They always belong to the church.” (see Pope calls for compassion). Even more, Pope Francis goes on to say, “How can we recommend to parents to do everything they can to educate their children in Christian life, giving them an example of a convinced and practiced faith if we keep them at arm’s length from the community as if they were excommunicated?”

In essence, Pope Francis is saying remarried Catholics are not automatically removed from church membership, although the church’s rules say such couples are not allowed to receive communion. The Catholic Church permits remarriage only after a church tribunal rules that the couple’s original marriage is annulled. The pontiff understands  that children of these remarried couples are watching how the church treats divorced families.  What this means is Francis accepts divorced couples as members of the church and says they need to be treated as such.

This is not the first time Pope Francis has shown compassion towards those looked upon less favourably in the Catholic Church.  Back in June of 2013 the pontiff made a bold statement during an interview saying, he doesn’t have any problem with the inclination to homosexuality itself.  He is quoted as saying, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”  (See Pope Francis reaches out to gays).  It  would seem that the pope accepts gays and lesbians as well.

It is so wonderful to have this “breath of fresh air” in the Catholic Church.  Finally, the Catholic Church has a leader who is pastoral, who is welcoming, and most importantly, who is more inclusive than his predecessors have been.  It seems to me, that when a church claims to follow the teachings and example of Jesus, then their actions need to reflect that.  I honestly believe that His Holiness, Pope Francis is doing just that.  He especially demonstrated this when in November of 2013, when the pontiff paused  to pray and lay his hands on a man with a disfiguring disease.  (See Francis embrace of a Disabled man) If that action doesn’t say, loving acceptance I don’t know what does.

Why is it so important for the leader of a Christian Institution to be so all-inclusive? Very simply, because Christians purport to  be the embodiment of Jesus on earth, therefore the institution must act and teach as Jesus did.  According to biblical stories Jesus was all-inclusive!  Let us look at some examples.

Take the story of the Woman at the Well as told in John 4:7 – 26, for example. To summarize the biblical story, Jesus  and his disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee.  They took the quickest route which was through Samaria. Tired and thirsty, Jesus sat by Jacob’s Well, while his disciples went to a village to buy food. During his wait, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water.  When Jesus met this woman at the well, he did something atypical, scandalous really, in that he spoke to a Samaritan; a group the Jews traditionally loathed. Even more scandalous, Jesus asked  the Samaritan woman to get him a drink of water, which would have made him ceremonially unclean, according to the Jewish faith, because he used the same cup or jar as the Samaritan woman.

To help understand how powerful this story is and just how all-inclusive Jesus was, we must understand that the hatred between Jews and Samaritans was intense and long-standing.  Jews, who considered themselves pure, detested the mixed marriages and worship of the Samaritans. Thus, a faithful Jew would never go near a Samaritan let alone talk to one.

Mark 2:15-17 tells the story of Jesus sitting down to a meal in Levi’s house, the home of a tax collector.  Tax collectors were for the most part Jewish people, and therefore they were hated by their own people. When they collected taxes they would collect the required amount of money for Rome, plus some additional money for themselves. They were considered to be extortioners of large sums of money. Plus, there was the fact that tax collectors worked for Rome, who were Gentiles (non Jewish) in the eyes of the Jews, and so they were treated similar to the worst kinds of sinners and prostitutes.  So for Jesus to sit down and have a meal with one of these tax collectors would have been scandalous to say the least.  Yet, it says that Jesus accepts even those most loathed by his community.

Jesus touching and healing a leper as told in In Mark 1:40-45 is another example . What makes this story so incredible is the fact that lepers were cursed, not only with a terrible disease, but also with exclusion from society. People wanted to keep far away from those with this contagious illness. Lepers lived in the outskirts of civilization and, if they came close to people, had to warn them by yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”  Yet, Jesus was willing touch and heal such a person.  Was this not an incredible act of acceptance?

Thumbs upSo as you can clearly see, the biblical Jesus accepted and included even those most marginalized by society. So to restate my point.  If the Catholic church claims to enbody Jesus on earth, then it must be all-inclusive just as Jesus was all-inclusive.  That is why Pope Francis is such a “breath of fresh air.”  He accepts all those that have been traditionally marginalized by the church. So “Thumbs up” for Pope Francis!

Vive La France

I just read a really interesting article. In May of this year, the France National Assembly voted unanimously to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food.  According to the article, France pass new law forbidding food waste, large grocery stores must donate edible food to charities and allow inedible food to be used for animal feed or compost.  Way to go France! Now this got me thinking.  How much food is actually wasted in the world? How much food is wasted in North America (namely Canada and United States)?  So, I did some internet research to find an answer to these questions.

According to the United Nations Environment Program,

  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion, is thrown away each year.
  • United Kingdom households waste an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food every year, around one third of the 21.7 million tonnes purchased. This means that approximately 32% of all food purchased per year is not eaten. 1219803198381116322trash.svg.med

To paraphrase from the article Food Waste Cost Canada, more than $31 billion worth of food is wasted every year in Canada, and that the total doesn’t include what’s being wasted at federal institutions like prisons, jails, hospitals and schools because there isn’t reliable data on that. If those numbers are included, along with the true cost of things like energy, water, land, labour, capital investment, infrastructure, machinery and transport, the true cost of wasted food is actually closer to $100 billion a year.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics rather disturbing.  What if a law, like the one France passed, was put into place in North America or other parts of Europe? Or even better, a law not only applying to the large grocery chains, but a law that also applies to institutions such as prisons, hospitals and universities.  How much of a difference would such a law make?  If the edible food was sent to charities, such as food banks and soup kitchens, how many fewer people would go hungry?  That got me wondering, how many people in wealthy countries like United States and Canada go hungry?  So, once again, I sought to find out the answer.

According to 11 Facts About Hunger in the US by DoSomething.org, a global organization for young people and social change,  1 in 6 people in the United States face hunger.  The article also says 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table. Now lets put that into perspective.  That means about six times the number of people who live in New York City go hungry.  That is a shocking number of people to me.

So what about Canada?  Well, according to PROOF, an organization that does research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity,  claims that in 2012 four million Canadians (1.5 million are children) live in households that struggle to afford the food they need.  Now keep in mind that Canada’s population in 2012 was 34.75 million people.  Now to put that in perspective, that is about the number of people who lived in Los Angeles, California in 2014 or that lived in Montreal, Canada in 2011. That seems like a staggering number of people to me.

I was told by a former employee at one of the grocery stores in my community that the store the former employee worked at throws out up to 50 loaves of bread a day and up to 10 cooked chickens a week, The reason, I was told, that this much bread is thrown out is because the bakery has been told to bake a certain amount of bread so that the shelves remain fully stocked even though the store’s decision makers know that they sell much less per day. As for the cooked chickens, the store’s policy is to ensure that the customer will always have cooked chickens available to purchase.

clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdNow I know this is the teacher in me coming out, but if there was a law forcing institutions and large chain grocery stores to donate all their throw away edible foods to charitable organizations, such as food banks and soup kitchens, then I have no doubt that the number of people experiencing food insecurity would drop.  The world can only become a better place to live in with such laws.  So France, I applaud you for taking the lead on such a law.  I sincerely hope that the remaining wealthy countries of the world will follow suit.  We are human beings and human beings help one another.

I also got to thinking that it is unfair of me to just rely on governments to make change.  Don’t get me wrong.  They do need to make laws like the one France has passed.  But, what can I do as an individual to help reduce food waste?  Could I be doing more to make a difference? Curious as to how much households waste, once again I did some research.    According to the The Washington Post article, How the U.S. manages to waste food, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually.  According to the Globe and Mail article, Canadians waste seven billion kilograms, the average Canadian household wastes between 500 to 750 grams of food per person a day, or about $1,500 a year.  Now that is a lot of food.  This is shocking! This is wrong!  It reminds me of some of the lyrics from Nickelback’s song, When We Stand Together, that says,

How can we fall asleep at night?
When something’s clearly wrong
When we could feed a starving world
With what we throw away

So what does a person do about it? One of the comments regarding the article, Food waste cost Canada, the commenter indicated that he had cut back on food waste (quoted exactly as he wrote it) by

  • Buying less and going to the grocery store more frequently means less spoiled food.
  • Careful planning of meals and making all your own meals at home.
  • Less income in the past several years makes me aware of foods value – the less money you have the less food you waste. I know that for a fact.

Now I thought this was good advice, especially now in light of the fact that I am living on a fixed income as a pensioner.  Furthermore, eat your leftovers.  I personally know of people who refuse to eat leftovers.  They throw out their leftovers.  My wife and I like leftovers as it means less cooking.  We have at least one night a week where we eat just leftovers. I challenge all of you to make individual changes to lessen food waste.  If each household wastes less food, then less people would go hungry.  We all need to do our part!  Together we can make a better world.