Lent is a good time to 'speak, pray and fast for justice'

(PA)

The End Hunger Fast campaign, which seeks to petition the Government to put an end to widespread food poverty in the UK, is gaining momentum.

Tuesday marks a national day of fasting that is being held in solidarity with those thousands of people across Britain who have to go without food simply because they cannot afford it.

It has been called a national crisis by church leaders and politicians alike, with the Bishop of Birmingham among those who have spoken out and condemned the spiralling situation.

He has criticised the effect that increasing levels of poverty is having on individuals and families throughout Britain, saying, "It is a scandal that in the seventh richest nation in the world more than half a million people have needed to use a foodbank in the last year and thousands have been admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition."

The Right Reverend David Urquhart is therefore joining with the Lord and Lady mayoress of Birmingham, faith leaders and community groups to open a 'Hunger Hut' in Cathedral Square on Wednesday, which will be used as a place of prayer and petition, as well as to raise funds for the cause.

The bishop has said he was "delighted" to be part of the project, which reflects a desire to see transformation for some of the most vulnerable people in the UK.

As part of the launch, the ash thumbprints of those willing to sign an open letter to the Government will be taken, and 'Hunger Journals' will be given to foodbank representatives from across the city to collect stories of those struggling with food poverty. Campaigners will present the journals to MPs in London on 16 April.

"The Hunger Hut...is a powerful visual symbol of the concern we have for those who do not have enough to eat in this city," said Bishop Urquhart, adding that faith must propel Christians to act.

"It is the bread and butter work of Christians to follow the example of Jesus by rolling up their sleeves and work against injustice, speaking up for those who do not have a voice. The season of Lent with its focus on repentance and fasting is a good time for us to speak, pray and act for justice."

The Bishop of Leicester is also taking up this call, launching a 'Think Hunger' campaign in the cathedral to highlight issues of food poverty and encourage those within his diocese to get involved in campaigning for a fairer society.

"The fact is that there are increasing numbers of ordinary people, even those in work, who can no longer afford to eat. I want to show why this should matter to us all," he said.

Though faith leaders have been criticised by some for getting involved in political matters, most remain convicted that they have a responsibility to champion the rights of the poor and needy.

"I believe it is the duty of religion to challenge political power when it fails in its responsibility to the most vulnerable in society," writes the Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker, in an article published in the Guardian on 2 March.

"No practical politics can exist which does not engage with the deepest beliefs of the people it seeks to serve. No coherent religion can avoid taking a view on how the community can best order its affairs."

The bishop goes on to discuss the vital role that churches and Christian organisations have to play in the Big Society, where "people of faith come together, and join with others, to respond effectively to need", which he contends is not only a central call of the Gospel, but also inherently political.

He defends the decision of bishops to pen an open letter to the Government appealing for action on food poverty, asserting that: "We are not demanding to be heard because of the office we hold. Rather, because that office exposes us both to deep reflection on the teachings of our faith and unstinted engagement with practical responses to poverty, we hope that our words may in themselves carry the mark of authenticity."

He also calls for an investigation into the systemic causes of poverty in the UK, quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu to illustrate his point: "When you've fished enough people out of the river, it's time to take a walk upstream and see who's pushing them in.

"We invite political leaders and others to look again at the world around us all, to look through that single focusing lens that is both faith and politics. And to see differently. And to act."

To find out more about End Hunger Fast and to join the campaign, go to www.endhungerfast.co.uk

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