The Pope gave further indications as to the content of his upcoming letter on the environment Saturday, as he addressed a group from the Italian National Farmers Confederation. Francis told his hearers that in their work of cultivating the land, they were responding to God’s commission “to till and keep” the earth.
Pope Francis said that this “cultivation” is a “typically human and fundamental activity” and that human agriculture involves both “welcoming the precious gift of land that comes from God” as well as the “equally precious work of men and women.”
Truly, the Pope said, “there is no humanity without cultivation of the earth” and there is “no good life without the food it produces for the men and women of every continent.”
Francis praised the work of farmers who devote their time and energy to cultivating the land as “a true vocation” that deserves to be recognized and properly valued.
The Pope also suggested that at times the reallocation of land from agricultural purposes to other pursuits solely because of profit motives means selling out to “the god of money.” Francis compared these people to those who have no feelings and “sell their family, sell their mother, but here it’s the temptation to sell mother earth.”
A constant of the Pope’s ecological considerations has been his placement of the human person at the center of environmental concerns. His biblically based ecology is unabashedly anthropocentric. In this vein Francis said that “the centrality of agricultural work” is underscored by the question of “poverty and hunger, which unfortunately still affects a large part of humanity.”
As he has done on other occasions, the Pope denounced “absolutizing the rules of the market” as well as “a throwaway culture of waste” that cause misery and suffering for many families. He invited his hearers to rethink “the system of food production and distribution.”
“I remember as a child,” Francis said, “that when a piece of bread would fall to the floor, we were taught to pick it up and kiss it and put it back on the table. Bread partakes somewhat of the sacredness of human life, and therefore cannot be treated as a mere commodity,” he said.
Referring again to the biblical passage, Francis said that along with tilling the earth, God commands men and women to “keep” it. “The two are indeed closely linked,” he said.
“Every farmer knows how difficult it has become to cultivate the land in a time of accelerated climate change and ever more common extreme weather events. How can we keep producing good food for the life of all when climate stability is at risk, and when the air, the water and the soil itself lose their purity because of pollution?”
“The challenge,” Francis said, “is how to make agriculture environmentally friendly. How can we make sure that while tilling the land we are also keeping it? This is the only way that future generations will be able to continue living there and cultivating it,” he said.
The Pope extended an invitation “to regain the love of the land as mother, as St. Francis would say, from which we came and to which we are called to return.”
Finally, the Pope proposed “keeping” the land and making “a pact” with it, “so that it can continue to be, as God intends, the source of life for the entire human family.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome.