Quite rightly, much is being said about Pope Francis and his ecological reflections. But we should not forget Pope Benedict XVI, and how important his papacy was for advancing and understanding a Catholic environmental doctrine, in full continuity with what Pope Francis is teaching. It is hard to explain the importance of Pope Benedict’s on this subject, and we should remember how the secular world recognized his achievements in this area. Linked here a few of his key addresses (here, here and here) and a picture of him receiving an electric car in September 2012.
In one of his last addresses, 2 days after he announce his resignation, he spoke the International Fund for Agricultural Development. While he mentioned the environment and respecting its concerns, the address centered on the role of working the land and farming as a way of helping the poor and contributing to solidarity. In fact, solidarity was at the core of his message. The principle of subsidiarity, biodiversity, the role of the family and economy as gift were also mentioned. See below some key passages:
“…cooperation – while it is tied to differing social and environmental contexts, and to respect for the proper laws of technology and the economy – is more effective when it is guided by the foundational ethical principles of human coexistence, that is to say, those essential values which, by their universal character, can animate all political, economic and institutional activities, including forms of multilateral cooperation. In this regard, I have in mind first of all the methodology followed by IFAD, which gives ongoing development priority over mere assistance, and places the group dimension alongside the purely individual dimension, to the point of setting up forms of interest-free grants and loans, often choosing, as the primary beneficiaries, the “poorest of the poor”. This activity shows that approaches inspired by the principle of gratuitousness and by the culture of gift can “find their place within normal economic activity” (Caritas in Veritate, 36). And indeed, the approach taken by the Fund is to link the elimination of poverty not only to the fight against hunger and the guarantee of food security, but also to the creation of work opportunities and institutional decision-making structures. It is well known that when these elements are missing, the involvement of rural labourers in choices that affect them is restricted, hence reinforcing their sense of being limited in their capacity and their dignity.
The Catholic Church in her teaching and her activity has always upheld the centrality of the worker on the land, urging concrete political and economic action in areas that affect him. This stance, I am happy to observe, harmonizes with the Fund’s approach in underlining the role of farmers, as individuals and as small groups, thus actively involving them in the development of their communities and countries. This attention to the person, both individually and collectively, will be more effective if it is achieved through forms of association, both cooperatives and small family businesses with the wherewithal to produce an income that is sufficient to support a decent standard of living.
In this regard, our thoughts turn to the next International Year that the United Nations has chosen to dedicate to the rural family, promoting a deep-rooted and sound notion of agricultural development and of the fight against poverty, based on this fundamental cell of society”