‘What a lovely day for a picnic!’ was not what we were thinking on Saturday, a typically chilly, damp November morning, as staff and volunteers from CAFOD Birmingham headed down to London for a day of inspiration and action.
When we arrived at Westminster Cathedral for the Hungry for Change Campaigners’ Conference, the atmosphere was buzzing with seasoned and new CAFOD campaigners from around the country eager to find out more about the injustices in the global food system, and how we can help build a world where 870 million people no longer live with the daily reality of hunger.
The day began with an opening liturgy from CAFOD’s Chair, Bishop John Arnold. He told the story of the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), emphasising the role of the four anonymous bearers who carry the paralysed man to Jesus so he can have his dignity restored and become the person God wants him to be. As CAFOD campaigners, he argued, we can see our role as equivalent to those bearers: anonymous people working away, enabling others to have their dignity restored.
We then heard from Fr. Joe Komakoma, Deputy General Secretary of SECAM (Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar), who explained how climate change and the need to compete with cheap imports are making it increasingly difficult for small farmers in his native Zambia to make a living. He spoke of the need to support small farmers to engage profitably in trade, calling us to ‘stand in solidarity’ with the poor.
CAFOD’s Head of Campaigns, Clare Lyons, left the audience in no doubt about the value of campaigning in creating lasting change for the world’s poorest people. ‘CAFOD,’ she told us, ‘campaigns because we believe passionately in the power of people to address the root causes of injustice. If we don’t address the root causes, we will just be addressing the symptoms, and that isn’t going to work.’ She spoke of the injustice faced by those who produce much of the food that is eaten around the world: ‘Small farmers produce 50% of the world’s food – what would we do without them? – and yet they don’t get the support they need.’
Theologian David McLoughlin invited us to take a fresh look at the Gospels in the context of their time, a place of status divisions where, ‘people are hungry and increasingly in debt to one another.’ He reflected on how, through his shared meals and ‘open table fellowship’, Jesus acted out his own teaching: ‘At his meals outsiders became insiders as an enactment of the coming of God’s Kingdom.’
A series of workshops gave everyone the opportunity to gain all the knowledge and skills we need to take action for a fairer food system. We shared stories of previous campaign successes, discussed the importance of building up a relationship with local MPs through CAFOD’s MP Correspondent Scheme and learnt how to take the perfect campaign snap.
The Policy Surgery was a chance to get to grips with exactly what Hungry for Change is asking for and why. Anne Lindsay, from CAFOD’s Policy Team, spoke of the need for greater transparency from large food companies, and George Gelber explained why the right support for small farmers is so vital: ‘Small scale farmers hold the key to ending hunger if only they can be made more productive and given more power in the marketplace.’
We also had an opportunity to see CAFOD’s brilliant new film, which packs all the essential information needed to get clued up about food into a concise five minutes.
The highlight of the day was the campaign action: an unseasonable picnic in Westminster Cathedral Plaza where, accompanied by a giant loaf and fish inspired by the Feeding of the 5000, we settled down with blankets and picnic baskets to call for a fairer food system. Curious passers-by watched as the Cathedral echoed to shouts of, ‘We’re CAFOD and we’re hungry for change!’
We returned to Birmingham feeling inspired and ready to spread the word.