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It is not enough to pray in religious places, to be a true believer you must first and foremost share food and water

Culture / -

Mahmoud Asfa
Alessandro Cremasco © Expo 2015

The Muslim spirit is a spirit of peace, justice and fraternity. This is why ISIS and other similar movements, deforming our religion into a vehicle of hate and violence, constitute a particularly painful wound for us.

The responsibility which religious figures bear with regard to food, water and energy is immense: religions interpret God’s plans for mankind’s life, a life which is expressed through the extraordinary essence of human nature combining body and soul, physicality and spirituality, inseparably united. To nourish and develop one of these two parts without devoting the necessary attention to the other part is an aberration against nature, and our role as religious guides is to seek the right balance between the two essences of the same nature.
The Milan Charter describes and highlights this aspect numerous times and we agree with and support a project which – by recognizing every human being’s right to life and growth through food, water and energy – commits us to act in such a way that this becomes the foremost goal we aim for. For Muslims, the Prophet used extremely strong words in this sense, and his thoughts and those of the Milan Charter have a lot in common.
The Prophet says “Humanity is associated with three things: water, food and fire.” This means that food, water and energy belong to everyone and that no one has the right to abuse or unfairly condition access to these things. A first response to the Charter is thus extremely clear, and that’s not all: this concept has a universal value, beyond the single religions which express it.
Another saying of the Prophet further underlines this concept: “I swear to you, the person who sleeps with a full belly while his neighbor suffers from hunger is not a believer, not a believer, not a believer!”, thus expressing a new sense to the faith: to be a true believer it is necessary first and foremost to share food and water… it is not enough to go and pray in holy places, we must be operators of justice by sharing the necessities of life with other human beings.
We firmly believe, and so does everyone else, certainly, that the first step towards achieving peace in the world is to give everyone enough to eat. What mother or father can tolerate not having any food to give their children without reacting and trying everything, even violence, to be able to placate their hunger! Fair distribution of food is the best instrument for stopping wars and diseases and we, who interpret God’s will, cannot ignore this aspect of charity and justice.
At the same time, and with the same commitment, we must face the challenge of – and control – the new sources of energy and the spread of weapons of mass destruction used in many places around the world every day. For us, as Muslims, it is particularly painful to witness how our religion and the Quran is exploited and abused, causing massive loss of life and the destruction of historical memory in many nations. I am referring to ISIS and other similar organizations which could not be further from the true Muslim spirit, which is a spirit of peace, justice and fraternity.
The theme of the consumption and distribution of food is another keystone of the Milan Charter. A great Greek philosopher said “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” On this subject too, our Prophet provided an important indication: “There is no worse vessel which the son of Adam can fill than his stomach, for it is enough for him to take a few bites in order to keep him strong and active. Yet if he is overcome by appetite, then he may fill it with a third of food, a third of drink, and a third of breath.”
This saying introduces another characteristic expression of our faith: fasting. In every religion, fasting is an element of spiritual discipline. But not only that: the wellbeing of the body and the spirit depends on a dietary discipline which involves abstinence for certain periods. Feeling hunger helps us to understand the discomfort of those who do not have enough to eat.
Solidarity is necessarily a matter of sharing. Charity does not contribute to growth: it simply justifies the giver. Sharing what we have allows us to understand those who do not have and to let them share in what we have. Women who grow children in their wombs and nourish them through their own bodies constitute the part of humanity that brings us closest to God from the point of view of willingness to suffer in order to offer an opportunity to life. Our commitment cannot exclude the due recognition and respect for this part of humanity which is all too often poorly acknowledged.
Women and men can be agents of justice only when they have equal dignity and equal responsibility in making decisions within the family and in society. Now it is up to us to translate our words into deeds, and the words which we solemnly subscribe to in this Charter. None of us can return to our homes as though today were a day like any other: today we make an undertaking to give to future generations a better world where – through fair production and distribution of food, water resources and energy – peace and interior development will be nourished by the spirituality which a correct use of these instruments sustains. Thus we will be able to return to work to think, plan and construct as an association of human beings… those beings that manifest the actions of their spirits through their bodies.

The future of mankind begins at the table

Culture / -

Giuseppe Platone
Alessandro Cremasco © Expo 2015

Reducing the distance which still prevents full realization of the goal of “equal access to natural resources and ensuring the sustainable organization of production processes”… this is a task which we can undertake together, starting within our own religious contexts, by introducing lifestyles in harmony with the goals of justice and sharing.

As Protestant Churches – which have been involved for decades in the conciliar process launched by the 1983 Ecumenical Assembly in Vancouver (World Council of Churches/CEC) and named “Peace, justice, care for creation” – we are happy today to sign this Milan Charter which is the fruit of the collective work of 42 tables on various themes connected with food and with the realities of our planet. For the last forty years, the agenda of the Ecumenical World Council of Churches (CEC), based in Geneva, and that of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (FCEI), have born witness to this commitment. I remind you of the important collective text published by the FCEI, prepared by its “Globalization and Environment” commission in 2005, called “Food, between Excess and Penury”… a text expressing the position of Protestant churches in these issues. For now I would like to share some brief considerations.
Firstly, I’d like to point out that today’s occasion is precious to us as representatives of various religious entities here in Milan who before this signing have already met and discussed these issues on two previous occasions. Our signatures are not a formality, they are charged with awareness.
The analysis of the global situation contained in the Milan Charter makes it clear that its aim – of “achieving sure equitable access to food for everyone” – is still a long way from being reached. Reducing the distance which still prevents full realization of the goal of “equal access to natural resources and ensuring the sustainable organization of production processes”… this is a task which we can undertake together, starting within our own religious contexts, by introducing lifestyles in harmony with the goals of justice and sharing which we subscribe to today.
Another vital issue is the relationship between faith and social responsibility. Taking care of the creation of which as humans we are a living and responsible part, safeguarding human lives and sharing resources in a fair way… these are questions which involve the whole living planet and the human race. The latter, in too many parts of the world, lives in terrible suffering and is prevented, often violently, from living its live with dignity. As a prime priority derived from our evangelical faith, we are determined to fight against every injustice which justifies and prolongs planetary inequalities concerning adequate access to food and water for every human being.
God’s gifts are entrusted to us so that everyone may enjoy them, without transforming them into exclusively private property unaccountable to any collectivity, otherwise we end up with humanitarian tragedies. Greed eats away respect for the limits that God has set for us since the creation of the world. Nourishment is also a spiritual matter about which we must continue to reflect, starting with the tension which innervates our society, between excess and penury, egoism and sharing. We also need to rethink our levels of meat consumption, the excess of stock rearing processes, often involving cruelty to animals and based on massive consumption of water, air and cereals which could otherwise be used for human consumption.
The future of mankind begins at the table, the shared table which God invites us to without excluding anyone. Welcoming others and sharing what we have with them so that everyone has at least enough to live on, is the defining concrete result of our faith in Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us all. No longer «mors tua et vita mea» but rather «mors mea et vita tua».
This is the horizon of hope and solidarity which inspires us. We commit ourselves to work, regardless of creed and belief, for the unity of humanity within its diversity, where every person has enough to live on and to nourish themselves both spiritually and materially.

Giuseppe Platone: Food justice starts at our dinner-table

Culture / -

Valdese imm rif

The pastor of the Waldensian church in Milan, addressed the topic of food justice at the meeting held on April 23 to discuss a Happiness Menu and ethical issues related to food.

Before coming to Milan to take over the pastorship, Giuseppe Platone held the same role in the Valli Valdesi, the three valleys in the west Piedmont, the traditional home of the Waldensians, as well as holding posts in New York State, and Riesi, near Caltanisetta, in Sicily. Platone was the editor of Riforma, the weekly newspaper for the Waldensian, Methodist, and Baptist community in Italy for seven years.
How is happiness defined in your faith, and what kind of diet serves to enhance it?
In the bible, happiness is related to the life that awaits us, and the road along which we are moving towards that happiness, through joy and sorrow. The pursuit of happiness is also our right, as enshrined in the American Constitution, written in 1776.
I believe that happiness is discovering that the Lord has a plan for each of us. The diet that nourishes this faith is to eat, constantly, of the bread of the Word, the bible. I believe that, in this life, we experience joy, but have only brief glimpses of happiness, that we will know in its fullness only in the Kingdom of God where there'll be “no tears or sorrow”, and where our communion with the Lord will be complete.
What is the relevance of fasting in your faith?
In the Waldensian faith, there are no rules regarding fasting. Sometimes we fast as a form of solidarity, and/or as a form of protest. I myself have participated in collective fasts in support of immigrants, against war, as well as against those who would do damage to the environment. The money saved as a result of not eating was then donated to a good cause.
On the subject of leading a Christian life, in a confession of Waldensian faith dated 1655, I found an affirmation related to fasting. Having stated that salvation is based solely on the grace of God and not as a result of one’s actions, the writer adds that as believers, we must eschew vices and apply ourselves to Christian virtues, using fasting and any other means at our disposal to ensure we lead a Christian life.
How is food represented in your faith? What are its key features and what values to they refer to?
Before we eat, we normally say a short prayer of thanks, or sing a brief hymn. This helps us establish a non-idolatrous relationship with what we are about to eat. Saying a prayer before eating helps to remind us that, even if what is in front of us is the fruit of someone’s labor, its prime ingredients are a gift from God for which we need to express gratitude. More, while we are at the table, we need to avoid wasting food, or over-eating, as this is an insult to those who do not have enough, or do not have any at all.
Can you tell us any specific anecdotes regarding a specific Waldensian tradition connected to food?
Until 1848, the Italian Waldensians were forced to live in a kind of alpine ghetto, in what came to be known as the Valli Valdesi, or Waldensian valleys, and are none other than the valleys of the Cottian Alps, in the area to the west of Pinerolo, in Piedmont, bordering on France.
During their centuries-long seclusion, the Waldensians developed their own traditional recipes. Indeed, there are dozens of these, the best-known being the “Supa Barbetta”, a soup that takes its name from the “barba”, the title to the Waldensian preachers who went house to house in medieval times.
Originally, this soup included dry bread that had been cooked in a hen or pork broth. This ancient “poor” dish has since been enhanced with the addition of spices, including cinnamon, while the bread has been replaced by the traditional rounded grissini, known as “rubatà”, and generous quantities of the soft cheese known as toma, have been added.
A traditional dish that bespeaks eight centuries of Waldensian history, the “Supa barbetta” takes 90 minutes to cook, and is a dish for special occasions, such as the annual commemoration of the granting of civil rights to the Waldensians, which occurred on February 17, 1848.
Today’s agricultural practices are ruining the planet. How important is it for your faith that food be produced in an ethical fashion, or that food waste be avoided?
In 1983, the World Council of Churches (WCC) 6th Assembly in Vancouver launched the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) programme, which brought about a change in life-style, not least in regard to food.
Better than ever before, as Christians, we can work together to change the current food-production processes that cause suffering and provoke malnutrition in many parts of the world. This is a scandal that must end, not least because we owe it to future generations. We cannot continue to stand by idly while people die of hunger or thirst. Moving towards food justice starts at our dinner-tables, in our homes, and in our churches. One example is the Waldensian church’s Green Rooster (“Gallo verde” in Italian), an ISO 14001 standard specifically designed for places of worship that wish to manage their environmental footprint.
Let us, therefore, start by looking in our own plate before we start judging other peoples’. This new approach to life is just a taste, the best is yet to come.

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