By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

It’s being called one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises since the Second World War. An estimated 20 million people are on the brink of starvation.

And for the first time, Canada’s faith leaders are making a joint appeal to respond to the famine in South Sudan and the severe food crisis in Yemen, northeast Nigeria and Somalia. The crisis is exacerbated by armed conflicts and severe droughts.

“A declaration of famine has not been made by UN agencies since July 2011 when some 260,000 people died in Somalia – half of them children under the age of five. The world must not let those horrors be repeated,” said the interfaith statement, signed by Bishop Douglas Crosby, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and more than 25 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Bahá'í leaders to launch the national appeal, called Pray-Give-Speak Out, on June 7.

The different faith leaders found common ground to collaborate on this appeal because of each faith’s foundation on the protection and promotion of human dignity.

“Realizing that all of us are asked to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be a visible sign of the divine loving presence to the world — (we) started talking,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a spokesperson for the Canadian Bishops and liaison with Development and Peace, the international development branch of the Catholic Church in Canada.

“Obviously, there’s many other things going on in the world: There’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of refugee issues, but we don’t want to forget the people who are suffering from famine. They can’t even eat. There’s a threat of death for many of them, so it’s a grave situation.”

The Government of Canada is matching donations for famine relief until June 30. For the Catholic community, the CCCB is suggesting that the faithful send their donations to one of three Catholic agencies in Canada: Aid to the Church in Need, Development and Peace, and the Canadian Jesuits International, which have all agreed to promote the appeal and will be receiving donations online on their respective websites.

“When you see things like the work that Development and Peace is doing, it really brings hope,” said Monica Nino, western animator for Development and Peace. “Every action, every act of generosity really helps, so it’s just about getting that word out there.”

Development and Peace has been providing emergency food assistance, access to clean water, sanitation, and shelter in churches for three months at a time for families escaping the violence in South Sudan.

“Three months might seem like nothing, but it does give them a little bit of a break from just always trying to flee from danger,” Nino said.

In addition to giving, the faith leaders are encouraging Canadians to pray, to speak out and to become informed about the situation. They suggest talking about the crisis with family, friends, neighbours, local community agencies and Members of Parliament.

“We’re encouraged to pray and to give and to talk to make people aware of the suffering,” said Prendergast.

Their joint statement will be issued to their respective faith communities across Canada.

The CCCB has also released suggested Prayers of the Faithful for use in Catholic dioceses, eparchies and parishes and a fact sheet outlining the humanitarian dimension of this crisis. 

Those wishing to donate can find ways to donate here:

Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
www.devp.org/en/famine-relief-fund
Phone (toll free): 1-888-664-3387

Aid to the Church in Need Canada
www.acn-aed-ca.org/iamstarving
Phone (toll free): 1-800-585-6333

Canadian Jesuits International
www.canadianjesuitsinternational.ca/2017/06/05/famine-relief-appeal/
Phone (toll free): 1-800-448-2148

For more information on the work of each charity: www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/4_-_Ways_to_Donate_-_EN.pdf