The Diocese unofficially kicked off participation in the campaign by asking those who attended Ash Wednesday services on March 5 to bring a can of food. Bishop Gerald Barnes announced at the Combined Vicariate meetings on Feb. 13 and 19 that those attending Confirmation Masses this Spring will also be asked to bring a can of food in support of the campaign. He followed up his talk with a short video message calling on all in the Diocese to support the food drive.
“This is the beginning,” Bishop Barnes said. “All of us doing our part can do something to fight world hunger.”
Bishop Barnes offered a number of other suggestions during his talk for participation in the campaign, including:
• Hold canned food drives at all First Communion Masses this year
• Encourage parishioners to join ministries that address hunger, including parish pantries, regional soup kitchens and Catholic organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities
• Hold a parish day of fasting
• Incorporate the campaign into RCIA programs
• Stronger promotion of the CRS Rice Bowl
• Reflect on the issue of hunger through a parish penance program
• Hold discussion and reflection nights on hunger with guest speakers
• Engage in public policy advocacy to address the root causes of hunger
A key element of participation in the campaign is for local Catholics to come face-to-face with their brothers and sisters who are hungry, Bishop Barnes said.
“The thing is not only to collect the food,” he said. “It’s also important to meet the hungry – the families, the individuals, the elderly and the children.”
The Inland Empire area of San Bernardino and Riverside counties has the highest poverty rate in the nation among the 25 largest metropolitan areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A 2013 study from FeedingAmerica.org found that Riverside and San Bernardino counties ranked seventh and ninth, respectively, among large counties in the U.S. with the highest rate of child food insecurity. That means that more than 319,000 children living in the Diocese of San Bernardino are facing hunger.
Since Pope Francis announced the global campaign in December, diocesan ministries, parishes and Catholic schools have been looking at their current efforts to feed the hungry and how they might be expanded.
The students of Sacred Heart School in Palm Desert voted to forgo their morning snack during Catholic Schools Week in a show of solidarity with those who are living with hunger. At St. Thomas the Apostle School in Riverside members of the student council will have the kind of encounter with the hungry that Bishop Barnes urged when they serve food at a local shelter this month.
“It’s a way of serving God and following in Jesus’s footsteps,” said St. Thomas eighth grader Kylie Gomez, who will be among the students to serve food at the shelter. “He fed many people bread and fish. I’d like to do that, too.”
While there are many who have long been dedicated to a ministry of feeding the hungry in the diocese, Michael Shawver, director of the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns, said he hopes the emphasis first by Pope Francis and recently by Bishop Barnes, will create more participation.
“The Bishop’s message was very strong on the issue,” Shawver said, referring to the Combined Vicariate talks. “Talking to people as they left the meeting, there was excitement.
“It has to have a positive impact in terms of encouraging people to be more active.”