Symposium speaker examines ‘vocation to agriculture’

| November 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, chief of staff to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gives an address Nov. 5 at the Faith, Food & the Environment symposium at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski, The Visitor

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, chief of staff to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, gives an address Nov. 5 at the Faith, Food & the Environment symposium at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Dianne Towalski, The Visitor

Catholics, and not just farmers, should consider “the meaning of a vocation to agriculture,” said the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

In remarks prepared for delivery Nov. 5 as part of a conference at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul titled “Faith, Food & the Environment: The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader,” Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson said that “from the very start, the Creator tells us to till the earth and to keep it” — not in a sense of private ownership, but to preserve its use for future generations.

Given today’s farming practices, he noted, “it is possible we have been doing too much tilling and not enough keeping.”

Cardinal Turkson did not attend the conference; planners learned only two days before his scheduled address that he was assigned instead by Pope Francis to help guide the Church’s response to the Ebola crisis in his native West Africa. Delivering the cardinal’s remarks was his chief of staff, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny.

Agriculture “cannot be just a job,” he said, “if we keep it part of God’s plan and history.”

As in business, “for everyone who has given much, much more will be demanded,” Father Czerny said. “This will also apply to people in agriculture. . . . This is what we are expecting to see from them in their vocation.”

In 2012, the Pontifical Institute for Justice and Peace issued a handbook titled “Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection.” The book, he noted, seeks to influence how business leaders see, judge and act in their vocation and can help agricultural leaders ask the right questions in their field as well.

Among those questions:

  • “Is it legitimate to worry that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little? Can [genetically modified organisms] and chemical fertilizers make their contribution without inhibiting the preservation and continued spontaneous growth of God’s creation?”
  • Does the Catholic social teaching about subsidiarity “influence the willingness of powerful corporations to allow and even assist other farming structures — family farming in some regions, peasant or subsistence farming in others — to flourish alongside agribusiness?”
  • What is the influence of globalization and financial markets on agricultural planning? “Do those plans reflect the goal of adequate nutrition everywhere, or do financial considerations push thoughts of food aside?”
  • Do agricultural leaders “think about ‘what sells’ or do they focus on truly feeding a hungry world while stewarding the environment in a responsible and prudent manner? Do the production and distribution decisions address the rampant problems of malnutrition? And are long-term risks such as the growth of resistance to herbicides and pesticides included in how they assess technological innovations?”
  • “Are migrant workers treated with human dignity and with fairness? Do policies and subsidies favor some forms of agricultural business over others without a compelling rationale in terms of human and environmental benefit?”
  • “Do agricultural leaders see themselves as stewards of the earth? Do global markets accept the food sovereignty of every country and region? Is wealth generated by agricultural business distributed and used to preserve nature and provide food for future generations?”
  • “Before you sign off on an order, ask, ‘Is this what is best for humanity and for the environment?’ And realize that ‘best’ is not a synonym of ‘most.’ ”

Relaying Cardinal Turkson’s closing remarks, Father Czerny said that everyone must remember that, while they are God’s stewards of the earth, “the way men and women treat the environment reflects how we think about and treat ourselves — and vice versa.”

Among the hosts of “Faith, Food & the Environment: The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader” were Catholic Rural Life, the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Center for Catholic Studies at St. Thomas and the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Joe Towalski of The Visitor, St. Cloud, contributed to this story.

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