He was supposed to deliver a presentation on Global Cultures in Encounter – at least that’s how the program for the two-day conference featured Linh Hoang, OFM, one of the guest speakers at the event sponsored by The Franciscan School of Theology on the campus of the University of San Diego in California. But Linh talked food instead.
Although organizers of last month’s conference at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at USD were just as surprised as the audience by the change in topic, the engaging presentation – Have You Eaten Yet? Food, Franciscans, and Climate Change – turned out to be among the most captivating, according to FST President and Rector Garrett Galvin, OFM, who had invited Linh to participate as one of the featured speakers because of his work and ministry as a theologian, college professor, and author of cultural theology.
“The audience really enjoyed Fr. Linh’s presentation. He reminded us of the basic connection between the Eucharist and food – a connection that is easy to forget if we are overly pious. Fr. Linh emphasized that the Eucharist is real food for real people, and that the Eucharist is the Divine desire to be with us,” Garrett, a member of St. Barbara Province, said in an email response to HNP NOW.
“He showed us how the desire for community is understood a little differently by different cultures. Fr. Linh pointed out that Vietnamese parents – including his own – will often ask, ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’ Fr. Linh said these are really code words for, ‘I love you.’ This was a wonderful talk that connected with our audience on many different levels,” added Garrett.
In a phone interview with HNP NOW, Linh explained the impetus behind delivering his presentation from the perspective of food.
“Food is something that everyone could connect with. Cultural practices always speak to people in a way they can understand. Food is an invitation. Christianity was founded on food – the Eucharist, an invitation to eat and share in the Divine. Eating is an invitation to enter into communion and to be reconciled with each other. It is hospitality, a sense of sharing. Our values as Franciscans are rooted in the Eucharist. If you are visiting a friary, it’s not unusual for a friar to take you to the kitchen and ask if you ate,” explained Linh, a professor of religious studies at Siena College in Loudonville, New York.
“We need to make these everyday realities and activities part of how we worship. How is food connected to our religion and faith practices? Why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat? We say we believe, but are we doing things the way Francis and Jesus did?” continued Linh, noting that food joins us to the earth, creatures, loved ones, and guests – and, ultimately, God.
“How we eat testifies to whether we value the creatures we live with and depend upon. Francis embraced creation. He fasted, he begged for food. He took to heart the words of Jesus to his disciples – eat whatever is presented to you. To eat is to enjoy and to struggle with the mystery of being a human. John the Baptist was a model for eating and fasting; he ate what was available, and he fasted in exile in the desert,” added Linh.
In his presentation, Linh addressed the effects of food on climate change – for example, energy consumption and the pollution and environmental damage in food production, animal agriculture in particular.
“We accept food as naturally part of our world, but are we acting responsibly? Are we respecting different cultures and customs and practices? Are we responding to those who don’t have adequate access to food? That’s why (Pope Francis’ encyclical) Laudato Si’ is an important guide to being good stewards of our planet. Each of us has to self-examine the personal choices we make,” he said.
His presentation covered how food distinguished the Christian mission – from the Roman Empire, when foods, mainly meats, were sacrificed to gods and goddesses; to early missionaries, who questioned local practices, for example, in South America, where inhabitants hunted small animals before the missionaries imported cows and other food that the locals weren’t accustomed to; to later Christianity and European missionaries who used food to distinguish Christians from others, and to immigrants who used food as a connection to their homeland and culture.
“Sustainable food is ecologically responsible, fair, accessible, local, and healthy,” said Linh, who also noted that throughout history, food has been used to exclude, discriminate, and create racial labels. “The early Christians had debates about the Eucharist because they didn’t understand it.”
The free conference, Reimagining the World: From St. Francis to Pope Francis, held on Jan. 27 and 28, explored how the vision of St. Francis and St. Clare opens a new way of looking at contemporary struggles, and how Franciscans use technology to spread the Good News. It also included a day-long immersion program of encounter with recently arrived migrants at the U.S./Mexico border – first with a visit to Casa de Misericordia, an intentional community in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego, and afterwards at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The immersion encounter was organized and led by Keith Douglass Warner, OFM, a member of St. Barbara Province and director of the Franciscan Renewal Project at The Franciscan School of Theology at USD, and Sr. Mary Waskowiak, RSM.
In addition to Linh, featured speakers included another Holy Name Province friar, Daniel Horan, OFM (From Assisi to America and Beyond: The Global Significance of Saint Francis for Today and Tomorrow), Cardinal Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego (The Vision of Pope Francis for the Church Today), Sr. Mary Elizabeth Ingham, CSJ, Ph.D., general superior of Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, California (The Harmony of Goodness: An Ethical Vision Inspired by St. Francis), and William Short, OFM, of St. Barbara Province.
The Franciscan School of Technology sponsored the conference in collaboration with the Academy of American Franciscan History, Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College, The Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture at the University of San Diego, and the Franciscan Friars Province of Saint Barbara.