“This teaching rests on one basic principle: individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution. That is necessarily so, for men are by nature social beings.”
—St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, # 219 (Mother and Teacher, on Christianity and social progress)
It’s a pretty radical thing to say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s what we’re talking about when we reflect on the sacredness and dignity of the human person—each one of us, every human on the planet, reflects the Divine, the Creator, God. Each of us shines forth that which is holy. None of us is left out; God is present in a unique and irreplaceable way in every human being.
What, then, happens when that unique expression of God is silenced, when that holy light is dimmed? What does our world lose? As we look out upon our global community, it’s not hard to see that some of us have access to more opportunities than others. It’s not hard to see that some of us would rather pretend that human dignity is not universal, that there are people in whom God does not dwell.
Let’s reflect on Evelina and her son, Stephen, both of whom live in Zambia. Growing up, Evelina, like generations of Zambians before her, used to survive on meals made from corn flour, usually a porridge called ‘nshima.’ “I’d eat porridge in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening,” she says. After all, it was cheap and easy to make.
Unfortunately, nshima has very little nutritional value—and relying too heavily on it has led to high rates of malnutrition. Many in Zambia have full bellies, but little nourishment. And this is particularly dangerous for children under the age of two, who need high levels of vitamins and minerals to grow up healthy and strong. That means mothers who are nursing—as well as their children—need nutritious meals.
So, CRS is teaching women like Evelina how to prepare healthier meals and grow new, vitamin-rich crops like peanuts, pumpkins and sugar cane. In many cases, these crops were already being grown in the village. Now, Evelina and others are adding more nutritious food to their children’s nshima: ground peanuts or eggs, for example. And, what the women learn, they share with their community—especially expectant mothers.
“We sing and dance during the cooking lessons because we are happy to learn how to cook different types of food,” says Evelina. Evelina is healthier, and so is her son, Steven. “I know I am taking good care of him, because he’s full of energy, he’s strong and never sick,” she says, with a smile.
We see in this story an opportunity to protect and promote the dignity of the human person. Our care for and commitment to individuals and communities—even those far away—is vital. We need only look to Jesus who stood with those on the margins, affirming their dignity, their right to an abundant life even if it meant his own death.
Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.