Yesterday I interviewed Michael Vollmer, who is the director of the Newman Center on the campus of Northern Arizona State University. Last year the Newman Center, which is a Catholic ministry, set up a “Hunger Banquet” to demonstrate to students the economic differences between the First, Second and Third Worlds. Mr. Vollmer said in Third World countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, Biafra…), annual income generally ranges from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars. In the Second World countries (Ukraine, Poland…), annual salaries generally range from $1,000 to $7,000. And in the First World countries (America, Canada, England…) annual salaries generally range from $7,000 and up… In the “banquet” this night, students were seated in three areas. The first represented the Third World. There was no table or chairs and rudimentary bowls to put small amounts of rice in. That was it. The second area had an old table and some chairs. On the table was some rice, beans and a glass of water. In the third section, which represented the First World, Mr. Vollmer said they tried to replicate a typical Sunday dinner for a middle class family in America. There was a nice table and chairs, a table cloth and glasses for water and cider. The table also had rice, a fresh salad, a roasted chicken, gravy, corn, mash potatoes and desert was cheese cake. (Pretty standard fare for an American middle class meal.) Mr. Vollmer said the students at the First World table were hesitant to eat their food, had a hard time looking at their friends at the other settings, and eventually felt so guilty they tried to give some of the food to their friends… The First World currently represents about 15% of the globe’s populace, the Second World represents 30% and the Third World represents a whopping 55%. That’s a lot of hungry people. And a lot of malnourished people that are getting all kinds of diseases (sometimes fatal) because their immune systems are so depressed because of the lack of, not only food, but healthy food… Now to go back to the visual of the three dinner settings at the Newman Center. There’s a Biblical parable Jesus tells about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man dines “sumptuously” every day while Lazarus, the beggar, lies at the rich man’s gate hungry every day. The rich man dies and goes to Hell for eternity as a result. It wouldn’t take a Biblical scholar to see that the modern corrolary would be all of us in America dining daily on chicken, mash potatoes, fresh salad, cheese cake… while people in Ethiopia dine daily on: rice. (And sometimes they don’t even have that, like during the current famine in eastern Africa.)… Earlier in the campaign, I gave a talk to a theology class at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, explaining about the tremendous disparity in relation to the First World and the Third World. A priest approached me after the talk and said he’d just heard Pope John Paul II say the First World and Third World epitomized the ‘rich man and Lazarus” parable. This would beg the question (as the destitute on the streets of Calcutta beg for rice): Is each of us who are”dining sumptuously” in the First World headed for the same eternal destiny as the rich man in the parable? Serious food for thought. Note: Last night I went to a “Last Supper” Mass at St. Puis X Church in Flagstaff, Arizona. The priest, playing the role of Jesus, washed the feet of 12 parishioners then said in his homily that as the apostles were willing to “receive” from Jesus, we should be willing to “receive” from our neighbors in a good spirit. He relayed this rather soft, pandering message to a bunch of surbanites who had probably just finished their chicken, salad, mash potatoes and cheese cake… before they came to the service in their Lexus… Jesus washed the feet of the apostles to show them that spirituality was about serving others. Yet so often the First World priests and ministers of today, won’t confront all of us for eating our chicken, fresh salad, mash potatoes, cheese cake… and not better “serving” our hungry brothers and sisters in the Third World — because, well, these priests and ministers are often leaving the service afterward in their Lexus (or whatever) to eat, that’s right: chicken, fresh salad, mash potatoes and cheese cake.