Pope Francis: Food Crisis, Climate change and Reaching the Poor

Pope Francis recently delivered a speech to the FAO, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, following a long tradition. Recently the Pope spoke on the environment and mentioned the scandal of starvation in our day and age. Again he touched on this theme:

It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation. This is truly scandalous. A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.

According to the Pope what is most needed is a change of attitude, or ‘openness of heart’. He also connected the theme of food security, refugees and the spiritual consequences:

What is demanded of FAO, its member States, and every institution of the international community, is openness of heart. There is a need to move beyond indifference or a tendency to look the other way, and urgently to attend to immediate needs, confident that the fruits of today’s work will mature in the future. To move forward constructively and fruitfully in the different functions and responsibilities involves the ability to analyze, understand, and engage, leaving behind the temptations of power, wealth or self-interest and instead serving the human family, especially the needy and those suffering from hunger and malnutrition.We are all aware that one of the first effects of grave food crises – and not simply those caused by natural disasters or violent conflicts – is the uprooting of individuals, families and communities. The separation is a painful one; it is not limited to their lands, but extends to their entire existential and spiritual environment, threatening and at times shattering their few certainties in life.

Finally, for the first time Pope Francis mentioned ‘climate change’ as one of the factors that affects the food crisis in the world. He does so in a similar spirit as Pope Benedict XVI (here, here and here), recognizing the reality but staying away from controversial or political debates on the causes

I greet the Director-General, Professor José Graziano da Silva, whom I had occasion to meet at the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome. On that occasion he made it clear to me that the situation worldwide is particularly difficult, not only because of the economic crisis but also due to problems associated with security, the great number of continuing conflicts, climate change and the preservation of biological diversity.

Finally, in a recent homily the Pope explained what he means by poor and a preferred term oh his: “existential peripheries”. The poor certainly include the materially poor, but also the materially rich who are spiritually poor.

“The Gospel is for all! Going out toward the poor doesn’t mean that we must become paupers or some sort of ‘spiritual bums’! No, that’s not what it means! It means that we must go towards the flesh of the suffering Jesus but Jesus’ flesh also suffers in those who don’t know it, with their studies, their intelligence, their culture. We must go there! That’s why I like to use the expression ‘go to the outskirts’, the existential peripheries. Everyone, all of them, [who suffer] from physical and real poverty to intellectual poverty, which is also real. All the outskirts, all the intersections of paths: go there. And there sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness.”

“This means that we must have courage. … I want to tell you something. In the Gospel there’s that beautiful passage that tells us of the shepherd who, on returning to the sheepfold and realizing that a sheep is missing, leaves the 99 and goes to look for it, to look for the one. But, brothers and sisters, we have one. It’s the 99 who we’re missing! We have to go out, we must go to them! In this culture—let’s face it—we only have one. We are the minority. And do we feel the fervour, the apostolic zeal to go out and find the other 99? This is a big responsibility and we must ask the Lord for the grace of generosity and the courage and the patience to go out, to go out and proclaim the Gospel.”

Creatio Conference Fundraiser

Last week Creatio organized a sale of St. Malo gift shop items that were not damaged in the historic fire. The fundraiser was a great success and the proceeds are dedicated for the Conference to be held at World Youth Day in Rio in less than a month. Top speakers will be presenting for the youth on the environment, free of charge. Many thanks to Fr. Joe Hartman, Sandy , Corinne, Gina and all helpers.

Human Ecology and the Culture of Waste

A few weeks ago Pope Francis gave his most developed speech concerning the environment, available in full here. The occasion was World Environment Day, sponsored by the UN. As he himself says, the environment has featured prominently so far in his Magisterium, for example here, here and here. Following the tradition of his predecessors he reflects on the biblical aspects of the book of Genesis, and the responsibility of man to cultivate, to participate in God’s plan of being a steward of creation. The grammar of creation is written in nature, and we must understand this logic, echoing Pope Benedict XVI. 

Then he speaks of the human dimension of the environmental problem and the deeper sources of the environmental crisis. The identification of the environmental crisis with a moral crisis was made explicit by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and implied by Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes 10: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man.”. Here is this point made in Francis’ own words:

But to “cultivate and care” encompasses not only the relationship between us and the environment, between man and creation, it also regards human relationships. The Popes have spoken of human ecology, closely linked to environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis: we see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind. The human person is in danger: this is certain, the human person is in danger today, here is the urgency of human ecology! And it is a serious danger because the cause of the problem is not superficial but profound: it is not just a matter of economics, but of ethics and anthropology. The Church has stressed this several times, and many say, yes, that’s right, it’s true … but the system continues as before, because it is dominated by the dynamics of an economy and finance that lack ethics.

What is Francis’ novel contribution then to the subject matter. Well, first of all is what he calls the culture of waste, where he ties the human problem to an erroneous and mistaken approach to economics. We have become spoiled and used to abundance, and this is destroying the earth, as we waste what we have. His words are radical, and the answer is solidarity:

 Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the “culture of waste.” If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs, the dramas of so many people end up becoming the norm…A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.This “culture of waste” tends to become the common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if poor or disabled, if not yet useful – such as the unborn child – or no longer needed – such as the elderly. This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition….We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry!

One little known fact is that this reflection on the ‘culture of waste’ is not new. In fact, this idea was most developed in Card. Bergoglio’s last Te Deum homily in Argentina, on the national day May 25th. Here he coined the term, ‘culture del volquete’: what is not useful is discarded. His emphasis was on treating human beings, children and elderly especially, in utilitarian terms, but of course this applies to the environment as well. In general the entire homily is a pointed bazooka at the ills of our times. The homily can be read in full here and this section is quoted in Spanish below:

Los extremos débiles son descartados: los niños y los ancianos.

A veces se me ocurre que, con los niños y los jóvenes, somos como adultos abandónicos que prescindimos de los pequeños porque nos enrostran nuestra amargura y vejez no aceptada. Los abandonamos al arbitrio de la calle, al “sálvese quien pueda” de los lugares de diversión o al anonimato pasivo y frío de las tecnologías. Dejamos todo a su cuidado y los imitamos porque no queremos aceptar nuestro lugar de adultos, no entendemos que la exigencia del mandamiento del amor es cuidar, poner límites y abrir horizontes, dar testimonio con la propia vida. Y, como siempre, los más pobres encarnan lo más trágico del filicidio social: violencia y desprotección, tráfico, abusos y explotación de menores.

Y también los ancianos son abandonados, y no sólo en la precariedad material. Son abandonados en la egoísta incapacidad de aceptar sus limitaciones que reflejan las nuestras, en los numerosos escollos que hoy deben superar para sobrevivir en una civilización que no los deja participar, opinar ni ser referentes según el modelo consumista de “sólo la juventud es aprovechable y puede gozar”. Esos ancianos que deberían ser, para la sociedad toda, la reserva sapiencial de nuestro pueblo.

¡Con qué facilidad, cuando no hay amor, se adormece la conciencia! Tal adormecimiento señala cierta narcosis del espíritu y de la vida. Entregamos nuestras vidas y, mucho peor, las de nuestros niños y jóvenes, a las soluciones mágicas y destructivas de las drogas (legales e ilegales), del juego legalizado, de la medicación fácil, de la  banalización hueca del espectáculo, del cuidado fetichista del cuerpo. Las encapsulamos en el encierro narcisista y consumista. Y, a nuestros ancianos, que para este narcisismo y consumismo son material descartable, los tiramos al volquete existencial. Y así, la falta de amor instaura la “cultura del volquete”. Lo que no sirve, se tira.

Second of all, is the Pope’s biblical reflection on the multiplication of loaves. When the community shares in solidarity, no one is left hungry and nothing goes to waste. Solidarity is proposed as the central attitude needed to face the environmental crisis. Here is Francis in his own words:

And this tells us that when food is shared in a fair way, with solidarity, when no one is deprived, every community can meet the needs of the poorest. Human ecology and environmental ecology walk together.

Creatio Conference gearing up

Sam Lass taking a break (kind of) from building an organic garden for an impoverished school in Petropolis, Brazil during a Creatio Mission last year. (August 2012)

Today I have received official confirmation of Cardinal Peter Turkson’s participation as the keynote speaker at the Creatio Conference to be held during World Youth Day in Rio 2013. Cardinal Turkson is the President for the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and represents the Holy See on issues that concern the environment. Creatio is delighted and honored to have the Cardinal’s participation. Cardinal Turkson has given several speeches on related themes, such as a recent one here on the encyclical Pacem in Terris:

Allow me to share my own experiences too. While Archbishop of Cape Coast, I chaired Ghana’s National Peace Council. My beliefs in the deep yearning of all people for dignity, respect and peace were essential to how I led this group. We were involved in a wide variety of issues, but none more difficult than the tense national elections in late 2008. We did not judge or criticize or pick sides. We constantly brought stakeholders together for dialogue and kept communication lines open. I have been assured that we played a major role in achieving social peace during this period….

However, a Pope or Cardinal is not exclusively a crisis-intervener on the world stage. A more typical role, and just as crucial, is to keep reminding the world of the deepest truths. For example, in September 2010, I led the delegation of the Holy See to the UN to discuss the Millennium Development Goals and the chance of attaining the goal of eliminating global poverty by 2015. Curiously, some of the methods of the anti-poverty campaign tended to target the poor in ways that suggest that the solution to global poverty is to eliminate the poor. The delegation of the Holy See intervened vigorously. Reflecting on human dignity and personhood, we reminded the assembly that combating poverty requires investments in the resourcefulness of the poor, making them protagonists in their emergence out of poverty, and not eliminating them. The poor need education to transform them from dependency to resourcefulness.

Soon I will publish the list and conference schedule of our incredible speakers to this year’s conference in Rio. You can read more about the conference here and Creatio here.

Finally, other Creatio members are making their way to Brazil already. Kelsey Teran, trip leader and communications adviser is in Chile working with education, see this article here.