Excellencies, distinguished leaders, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you to our gracious hosts; I appreciate your warm welcome, and congratulate you on this extraordinary meeting. It comes at a critical time, and brings together inspirational leaders to address the most vital issues of our time.
Let me highlight the great importance I attach to the consistent, prophetic role of this annual gathering of religious leaders, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
As world leaders meet at the United Nations General Assembly this week to take stock of progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, this gathering highlights the vital roles that religious institutions play in bringing about peace and prosperity for all. It is my privilege to help forge stronger links between the deliberations at the United Nations and the insights that emerge from discussions here in Assisi.
The moral call to feed the hungry and care for those who are poor and vulnerable is a shared value of humanity that lies at the heart of the world’s major religions. It is now a global commitment, agreed by Member States of the United Nations at the Sustainable Development Summit last year.
Feeding the hungry is grounded in centuries of experience and religious teachings. Faith-inspired communities and organisations around the world feed hungry people each day. Pope Francis has called repeatedly on people to pray and work to end hunger.
As long as hunger is not overcome, humanity will not live in peace. It is therefore my hope that ending hunger will occupy a high place on the agendas of religious leaders praying for peace in Assisi and the communities they represent.
A world without hunger is an ambitious yet fully achievable goal. We must dedicate ourselves to work to that end, by identifying those most in need and removing the obstacles and injustices that stand in way of achieving that most basic of goals, to have enough to eat.
With your spiritual leadership and charitable actions, we can change the lives of the 795 million undernourished people around the world.
As St. Francis of Assisi reminds us, together we can “start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
I represent the United Nations in this panel because ending poverty and hunger relies on stronger partnerships between religious leaders, faith-inspired organisations, the United Nations, private actors and governments.
Many of you were at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, a historic event convened by Secretary General Ban which reaffirmed our collective commitment to humanity. At the Summit, we together committed to upholding the principles of compassion, humanity and impartiality while providing humanitarian assistance and protection - in alignment with fundamental humanitarian principles.
WFP left the Summit inspired to collaborate more strategically with religious actors that influence and play a part in hunger solutions.
Each year, the World Food Programme assists more than 80 million people in around 80 countries. Much of our assistance is delivered by faith-inspired organisations. Still, we are reaching only ten per cent of those in need of food assistance – together with you we could reach many more.
We call on religious leaders to mobilise even more public will and political attention. You have the power to influence authorities towards more equitable and sustainable sharing of food in society, as well as the networks to reach the most marginal people in the most marginal places.
Of course, in the World Food Programme, we know that faith-inspired organizations already play vital roles on the ground. We work closely with faith-inspired organisations in more than 40 countries.
One country where we work with a range of different faith partners is Syria. In August, the World Food Programme and partners delivered food parcels for over 4 million people, using a variety of methods including cross-border and cross-line operations, airlifts and high altitude airdrops.
The lives of up to 275,000 people inside eastern Aleppo city are at stake because of shortages of food, water, medicines and other essential supplies. Sadly, starvation is often the consequence of warfare which fails to distinguish between soldiers and ordinary people. Humanitarian and commercial supply routes into eastern Aleppo city have been cut off since early July. Stocks of food and medicine are running dangerously low.
The World Food Programme has nonetheless reached – with our partners, many of them faith-inspired – more than 150,000 people with food in eastern Aleppo over the past three weeks and distributions are ongoing.
Syria is the biggest, most complex humanitarian crisis of our time. In the five years since the start of the conflict, millions of men, women and children have been displaced inside and outside the country. The dreams of an entire generation have been shattered.
Religious leaders and United Nations must join in prayer and action to end the terrifying bloodshed in Aleppo, calling for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across Syria, including those in besieged locations.
In June this year Pope Francis addressed the Annual Executive Board of the World Food Program in Rome. His words were inspirational: “Do not grow weary or let problems dissuade you, in implementing this urgent priority of Zero Hunger’’.
This annual Prayer for Peace can amplify his message among religious leaders and beyond. Our hope is that you will all join us in a call for action on Ending Hunger.
Building on this occasion, WFP hopes religious leaders will accept our invitation to form an Inter-religious Advisory Council on Zero Hunger. The Council will advise on hunger challenges and the actions required to engage communities around hunger solutions.
We seek and need the support of religious leaders like you in this effort. We need your prophetic voice, global perspective, and wisdom and insights.
I am here to listen and learn and to seek your advice, in the hope that we can lift millions of people out of hunger, together.