By Aaron Weaver
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter joined a diverse group of more than 100 top leaders from all major faith groups in the United States Monday in Washington, D.C., to call for a shift in the country’s national priorities and commit to ending hunger by 2030.
The group affirmed a statement at the Interfaith Religious Leaders Summit, an event organized by CBF partner Bread for the World, committing themselves to accomplish this goal on the eve of Pope Francis’ much-anticipated visit to the U.S. and addresses before a Joint Session of Congress Thursday and to the General Assembly of the United Nations on Friday.
“We are deeply pleased to welcome Pope Francis to the United States,” the pledge stated. “The Pope has repeatedly urged people around the world to address the problems that contribute to the persistence of hunger and poverty. He has called us all to pray and work to end hunger. We trust that he will summon our nation to end hunger in our midst and support global efforts to overcome hunger.
“U.S. faith communities are deeply engaged with many sisters and brothers who struggle with hunger and poverty, and we have become increasingly active in urging our nation’s elected leaders to do their part – defending low-income people in the national budget debate, for example. Our experience of God’s mercy and compassion for all people moves us to engage in God’s work of overcoming hunger and human misery, and our sacred traditions include visions of the world transformed.”
The signatories emphasized the efforts of Pope Francis to proclaim the love of God for all people, especially those who struggle with food insecurity and poverty. While noting that people of goodwill can disagree about policy strategies, the letter stressed that a shift in national priorities in the near future is required to achieve the goal of ending hunger in the U.S. and internationally by 2030.
“This special time in our nation could open many hearts to God and to God’s loving purposes for the world,” the letter concluded. “That is why the leaders of many of this nation’s diverse faith communities have gathered in the nation’s capital today. We pray that our collective witness will help to make this a turning point in the history of our nation and the world.’
Paynter expressed her eagerness hear from Pope Francis and continue to collaborate with faith groups to end hunger in the U.S. and globally.
“I have been to Washington, D.C., many times to speak to elected officials and other policy makers,” Paynter said. “I am most often representing a faith voice in this city where the display of principalities and powers take center stage. This week is different. Center stage this week is filled and overflowing with preparations for Pope Francis, a faith leader.
“This is a week for witness. There are lessons in the margins of this week. Pope Francis has consistently prioritized acts of humility and simple practices of compassion ministry,” said Paynter, noting the Pope’s plans to visit a Philadelphia prison on Saturday.
“Pope Francis has let his life speak the gospel on the world stage. He has attracted the world’s attention by making the gospel visible. Learning to live by showing love and living the surprising acts of grace make a world of difference.”
In 2013, CBF joined with the Catholic Church and other faith groups in prayer to end world hunger. Pope Francis, in conjunction with Caritas International, issued a global “wave of prayer” against world hunger that began at noon, December 10, 2013, on the South Pacific Island of Samoa. The Fellowship encouraged individuals and churches to participate in this “wave of prayer” and spotlighted the ministries of CBF field personnel working to end hunger in 20 nations across four continents.
Paynter will attend a luncheon today in honor of Pope Francis’ visit hosted by the United States Agency for International Development to discuss the agency’s vision for ending extreme poverty and the role that faith-based organizations play in international development.
She will also meet today with Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and on Wednesday will be present at the White House for a special welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis