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Best serving global health?

Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Emmanuel Levinas once said of enjoyment, “There are times when one is ashamed of it, as of feasting during a plague.”

On Thursday, I attended the global health forum. Two physicians and an economist starkly presented the plague to us – AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and hunger. Our African sisters and brothers die daily, for they cannot afford medicines costing just a few dollars, and they have no food. I felt ashamed, but proud – what a wonderful community Notre Dame is that we would educate ourselves about such dire issues, and launch an initiative to solve them.

Later the same day, while passing the new Jordan Hall of Science, I noticed a crowd of well-dressed people entering it. I followed them, and found inside an opulent feast – lobster, crab, shrimp, scallops, lamb chops, asparagus in puff pastry – complete with ice sculptures of our famed gold dome, displayed as a seal of approval for this ostentatious display of wealth. I ate three scallops, and I understood anew Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians regarding eating and drinking condemnation on oneself. What I consumed cost the same amount as malaria treatment for one child of God in Africa. I scored a free snack; another person died. Paul’s words need not concern the Eucharist alone. All food becomes holy for one dying. All eating condemns us if we feast during a plague.

Surely we should show gratitude for donors’ generosity. But how do Catholics give thanks – by feasting during a plague? The wisdom of the world mandates fleshly, sensual extravagance as the suitable response to gifts. But do not we Catholics subscribe to the folly of the Cross?

The University intentionally scheduled Thursday’s two events – the forum and the hall dedication – on the same day, so we might identify the problem and venture toward a solution by educating tomorrow’s health care professionals. I applaud this. But why did Thursday’s feast happen? Will we, with hearts frozen like ice sculptures (Satan in “Dante’s Inferno”?), prepare for a better future while forgetting those dying at present? Ought we not to feel shame? Ought we not to change how we thank our benefactors?

Peter Fritz

grad student

Department of Theology

off campus

Sept. 17