Welcome from Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace

NOTE: Original speaker was intended to be Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice & Peace, but he was obliged at the last moment to cancel his trip to the symposium in light of meetings at the Vatican to assess the Ebola crisis in West Africa and develop a strategic action plan to guide the Holy See’s response. Speaking in his place was Rev. Michael Czerny S.J, Chief of Staff to Cardinal Turkson.

Thank you for the very kind invitation to the Council to participate in the Symposium on Faith, Food, and the Environment here at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul. Thank you for the warm welcome.

As you may know, over 50 years ago, the Second Vatican Council called for a prayerful reflection upon the mission of the Catholic Church in the modern world. The Council found it urgent for the Church, with all her tradition and resources, to continue to accompany humanity in its walk through history, and to update that accompaniment.

No Church document says it more eloquently than the pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men, women and children of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” [3]

In a recent meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), translated this great affirmation into a pastoral blessing: “The Catholic Church, with all her structures and institutions, is at your side,” [4] that is, at the side of everyone who seeks in good faith to meet the challenges of world hunger and ensuring a sustainable supply of food, while at the same time being good stewards of the gift of creation for future generations. And just last week, addressing 150 representatives of grassroots movements from 80 countries, the Holy Father pointed out that we were meeting in the Old Synod Hall – and synod means exactly “to walk with” which is a symbol of the process that he was supporting and that he wants to see the whole Church involved in: walking with the “the men, women and children of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted”.

One of the many fruits of the historic Vatican II gathering of the people of God was the creation of a body of the universal church. “Considering the immensity of the hardships which still afflict the greater part of humankind today,” the Council regarded it as “most opportune” that an organism be set up, which would soon be known as “Justice and Peace.” Why? “In order that both the justice and love of Christ toward the poor might be developed everywhere.” The role of Justice and Peace would be “to stimulate the Catholic community to promote progress in needy regions and international social justice.” [5]

This spirit is beautifully expressed with these words of Vatican II: “Giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this Council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.” [6]

To engage in conversation about how faith can inform our future leaders—informing their values and ethics—in the agricultural and food industries, exploring the intersection of faith, food, and the environment: that is why I join you at this Symposium at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. When we share a common commitment to conversation, we place ourselves at the service of truth and recognize the legitimate contributions of others, even at times when we and they disagree.

And yet because the stakes are high, tempers tend to run short, and sharply divergent views make the conversation shrill. When that happens, as the Council foresaw, we must courageously go even further and deeper than conversation, into dialogue: “The Church sincerely professes that all [people], believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue.” [7]

Four years ago, during one of the deepest economic recessions the world had ever experienced, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace convened two conferences—one in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies of Los Angeles in October 2010, and one in Rome in February 2011 in collaboration with the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. The purpose of the two conferences was to explore how business leaders can live out their call to love while managing their respective organizations in the challenging times and striving for the common good. How is it possible?

The intense and fruitful meetings resulted in a set of reflections entitled, Vocation of the Business Leader.[8] The handbook offers business leaders, members of their institutions and their stakeholders, a set of practical principles that can guide them in their service of the common good. It is intended as an educational aid that addresses the “vocation” of the business men and women who act in a wide range of business institutions: cooperatives, multinational corporations, family businesses, social businesses, for-profit and non-profit collaborations and so on; and the challenges and opportunities that the business world offers them in the context of intense technological communications, short-term financial practices, and profound cultural changes.

I am pleased to report that we are now in our fourth edition in English and the resource has been translated into 15 languages.[9]

But as we reflected upon the process we went through to develop this resource for business leaders, we have been challenged to go even deeper into particular vocations that are essential to the future of humanity. Among those deserving attention are the roles of political leaders (both elected and professional public servants), engineers and the judiciary. But the most active project is this Symposium’s: to explore the vocation of the agricultural leader in at least three dimensions: Food, the Environment, and Faith.

Food is unique. Food sustains life itself; it is not just another product. As Christians, providing food for all is a Gospel imperative, not just another policy choice.[10] Eating is a moral act because it is a human act, and human acts can be morally evaluated.[11] But food and agriculture have become distant, abstract, anonymous. For many people, food comes from the grocery store or fast food restaurant. Agricultural production, including fishery, is a distant reality, little seen and less understood. We have become disconnected from how our food is produced. This disconnection results in putting trust in an industrial system that provides food for us.

Last week, addressing representatives of popular organizations — including peasant movements, “landless” and indigenous people — Pope Francis lifted up these very issues around land and agriculture, including “land grabbing, deforestation, expropriation of water, inappropriate pesticides…” and culminating in the genuine scandal and crime of hunger in the world, “while at the same time tons of food are simply discarded.”[12]

Issues like these, whether far-away or here at home, are ours to address during this Symposium. For ours is the responsibility as Christians to consider the important underlying ethical questions:

  • How can hunger in the human family be overcome?
  • How can we ensure a safe, affordable, and sustainable food supply?
  • How can we ensure that farmworkers and owners of small farms, in the Unites States and around the world, live and work with dignity?
  • How can land, water, and other elements of God’s creation be preserved, protected, and used well in the service of the common good? How do we respond to the effects of Climate Change?
  • How can rural communities in this country and around the world survive and thrive?[13]

My dear brothers and sisters, as you can perhaps discern from this list, the challenges are daunting and perhaps appear overwhelming.

But confident in the one who is the Truth, and strengthened by the spirit who works in the secret of every human being’s heart, we can together take up the task of entering into a fruitful and faithful dialogue at the service of humanity and a quest for a more just and peaceful order among men and women.

When we place our concerns before the discerning minds of all people of good will and draw upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, the source of all truth, we cannot help but proceed in great confidence and hope for our Church and each other in the modern world.

Therefore, I dare to challenge everyone attending this Symposium to utilize all of the gifts God has given each of you—your wisdom, your experience, and your creativity—to discuss and wrestle with these questions together, so that we can provide resources for the next generation of food leaders who are committed to the common good and informed by faith to address the food and environmental challenges before us.

Thank you and God bless you.


[3] Gaudium et Spes, § 1.

[4] Pope Francis, Address, 38th Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 20 June 2013.

[5] Gaudium et Spes, § 90.

[6] Gaudium et Spes, § 3.

[7] Gaudium et Spes, § 21 ; cf. § 40

[8] http://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/cst/research/publications/vocationbusinesslead/

[9] As of November 2014: Arabic, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Ukrainian (and next year Chinese and Thai)

[10] For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food, Catholic Reflections on Food, Farming, and Farmworkers. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington DC. 2003. Paragraph I.

[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1749.

[12] 28 October 2014. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/speeches/2014/october/documents/papa-francesco_20141028_incontro-mondiale-movimenti-popolari.html

[13] For I Was Hungry …; paragraph II.