ROME/VATICAN CITY – His Holiness Pope Francis this morning granted a private audience to Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The meeting took place immediately upon Cousin’s return from Syria and following her recent visit to Israel and Palestine.
During her Papal Audience, Cousin briefed Pope Francis on the urgent needs of those affected by conflict in Syria, where WFP is planning to feed 3 million people in July, in addition to assisting almost one million refugees in the region. She also expressed concern about the deteriorating food security of one third of households in Gaza and the West Bank.
Cousin emphasised the key role played by WFP’s nutritional programmes in the first 1,000 days of life and subsequently, through the school meals it provides to almost 25 million children in 60 countries.
“I was deeply moved by the dedication and the valuable support for the hungry which Pope Francis expressed not only today during our conversation but many times on previous occasions, from his inaugural Papal Mass to the recent Papal Audience with participants of the 38th United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) conference,” Cousin said on her return from the Vatican.
“As an advocate for policies that will help eliminate hunger, support just peace processes and promote fruitful dialogue among people as well as religions, the Catholic Church carries enormous global influence. We need the voice of His Holiness. I implored him to please use his influence. In response, His Holiness thanked me for the work of WFP and confirmed the commitment of the Catholic Church, including Caritas and CRS, for humanitarian access in conflict situations like Syria and to advocate for the reduction of structural poverty globally.”
WFP works on a regular basis with many Catholic institutions and NGOs inspired by Catholic values. These include Caritas Internationalis and its various national agencies with whom WFP has partnerships in 21 countries. These partnerships are especially important in Africa where WFP also works with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). There is also productive collaboration with the Rome-based Comunità di Sant’Egidio, with whom WFP runs food assistance and health programmes in Guinea and Mozambique as well as with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which supports food distribution in Malawi.
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WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Last year, WFP reached more than 97 million people in 80 countries with food assistance.
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