Church’s support of farmers vital to well-being

NienstedtBlEvery summer, the Archdiocese, through its Office of Parish Services, sponsors a celebration entitled “Rural Life Sunday.” The celebration generally takes place on a farm in one of our many rural parishes spread throughout the 12 counties that comprise our local Church. This year’s event was hosted by the parish of Immaculate Conception in Watertown on Sunday, June 22.

What made this year’s celebration special is the fact that the United Nations has declared 2014 to be the “International Year of Family Farming,” in response to the dedicated efforts of an international coalition of 360 groups led by the World Rural Forum (http://www.familyfarmingcampaign.net). This coalition is committed to use this time frame to hold public events and increase media coverage in an attempt to raise greater awareness for the need for better public policies in support of family farmers. Their ultimate goal is to reposition family farming at the center of agricultural, environmental and social policies in both the Global South, as well as the Industrialized North.

The important organization Catholic Rural Life began as the “National Rural Life Conference” and was founded by Archbishop Edwin O’Hara in 1924. The archbishop, who himself grew up on a farm in Lanesboro, Minn., wanted to see the Church show equal concern for the life of the farmer as it did for people who lived in the city. So, as bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls, Mont., and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., he pushed for Catholic programs like credit unions, health clinics and family assistance. Such help, he believed, was vital for the well-being of the Church, both in the city as well as the countryside, since their destinies were so intricately connected. And so for 90 years, CRL has promoted models of sustainable agriculture and local food production, as well as engaging in the apostolates of education and advocacy so as to help alleviate hunger and poverty in rural communities.

The group has been joined in this endeavor by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in offering generous grants and subsidies. For example, in Willmar, Minn., a CCHD grant helped to establish the Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center, a center that seeks to establish and promote new and culturally diverse businesses in the Willmar area through training and other support. In Duluth, Cloquet and Two Harbors, a CCHD grant began 1 Roof Community Housing that provides local residents with home-buyer education classes, repair loans for homeowners and landlords, financial counseling, credit counseling, and assistance with community organizing so as to overcome neighborhood crime.

More recently, CRL has also partnered with Catholic Relief Services to promote a program that will allow American farmers to share their expertise with their counterparts in East Africa (specifically Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya).

I must admit that my first interest in farming peaked when I was named the Bishop of New Ulm, considered by some to be the most rural diocese in the country. I soon came to appreciate the solid values that marked the lives of these good people: their diligent work ethic, their resiliency in the face of disappointments, their neighborliness and their reliance upon God. In regard to the last point, I recall meeting a young farmer after Mass in Benson. When I inquired about how the crops were doing that season, he smiled and said, “You know, Bishop, God always has a few surprises in store for us. Every year is different. But I get up every morning and expect to see a new miracle.”

“Really,” I responded, “Well, I guess it would be difficult to farm and not believe in God.”

“I don’t think it’s possible,” he concluded.

The heavy rains these past weeks have been devastating for the crops in the fields. This condition poses a difficult challenge for farmers this year. While farmers are close to the ground, and therefore close to God, they deserve the support of the Church! Let’s not forget them in our daily prayers.

God love you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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