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The Papal Visit : 'Dignity, Rights' Called Key Farm Issues

September 18, 1987|From Associated Press

Following are excerpts from Pope John Paul II's homily at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey .

. . . The land is God's gift. From the beginning, God has entrusted it to the whole human race as a means of sustaining the life of all those whom he creates in his own image and likeness. We must use the land to sustain every human being in life and dignity. Against the background of the immense beauty of this region and the fertility of its soil, let us proclaim together our gratitude for this gift, with the words of the responsorial psalm: "The earth has yielded its fruit, the Lord our God has blessed us." (Psalms 67:7).

As we read in Genesis, human beings earn their bread by the sweat of their brows (Genesis 3:17). We toil long hours and grow weary at our tasks. Yet work is good for us. "Through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed in a sense becomes 'more a human being' " (Laborem Exercens, 9).

The value of work does not end with the individual. The full meaning of work can only be understood in relation to the family and society as well. Work supports and gives stability to the family. In each community and in the nation as a whole, work has a fundamental social meaning. It can, moreover, either join people in the solidarity of a shared commitment or set them at odds through exaggerated competition, exploitation and social conflict. Work is a key to the whole social question, when that "question" is understood to be concerned with making life more human (Laborem Exercens, 3).

Agricultural Work a Vocation

Agricultural work exemplifies all these principles. . . . God has blessed the United States with some of the richest farmland in the world. The productivity of American agriculture is a major success story. Clearly, it is a history of hard and wearying work, of courage and enterprise, and it involves the interaction of many people: growers, workers, processors, distributors and finally consumers.

I know too that recently thousands of American farmers have been introduced to poverty and indebtedness. Many have lost their homes and their way of life. Your bishops and the whole church in your country are deeply concerned; and they are listening to the voices of so many farmers and farm workers as they express their anxieties over the costs and the risks of farming, the difficult working conditions, the need for a just wage and decent housing, and the question of a fair price for products. On an even wider scale is heard the voice of the poor, who are bewildered in a land of plenty and still experience the pangs of hunger.

All agree that the situation of the farming community in the United States and in other parts of the world is highly complex, and that simple remedies are not at hand. The church, on her part, while she can offer no specific technical solutions, does present a social teaching based on the primacy of the human person in every economic and social activity. At every level of the agricultural process, the dignity, rights and well-being of people must be the central issue. No one person in this process--grower, worker, packer, shipper, retailer or consumer--is greater than the other in the eyes of God.

Need for Reconciliation

Giving voice therefore to the sufferings of many, I appeal to all involved to work together to find appropriate solutions to all farm questions. This can only be done in a community marked by a sincere and effective solidarity and, where still necessary, reconciliation among all parties to the agricultural productive process.

And what of our responsibility to future generations? The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations. I urge you to be sensitive to the many issues affecting the land and the whole environment, and to unite with each other to seek the best solutions to these pressing problems.

Each one of us is called to fulfill his or her respective duties before God and before society. Since the church is constrained by her very nature to focus her attention most strongly on those least able to defend their own legitimate interests, I appeal to landowners, growers and others in positions of power to respect the just claims of their brothers and sisters who work the land. These claims include the right to share in decisions concerning their services and the right to free association with a view to social, cultural and economic advancement (Laborem Exercens, 21). I also appeal to all workers to be mindful of their own obligations of justice and to make every effort to fulfill a worthy service to mankind.

Respect Human Dignity

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