To Till and Tend
Pope Francis, through his letter, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” has done both the world and its people a great service. “Laudato Si’” is an invitation to enter “a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” So, as the executive director of Catholic Rural Life, a 92-year-old national, Catholic nonprofit focused on rural concerns in the United States, what does this letter have to say to farmers and other women and men living in rural communities?
In short, a lot.
Firstly, Pope Francis begins his letter with the phrase “Praise be to God,” acknowledging the generosity and love of our Creator who has given us life. We are all called to life, created in the image of God, with a distinct purpose!
Secondly, Pope Francis highlights the many crises we are facing in our common home, this earth: pollution, climate change, water contamination, loss of biodiversity and a general breakdown in society. In Genesis, God called women and men “to till and to tend the earth.” We have not done a good job “tending” the earth. Our common home has become untidy and is rapidly deteriorating. The pope cites agriculture as one of the areas that is contributing to water and soil pollution through overuse of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. And our most vulnerable brothers and sisters are feeling the brunt of the deterioration in many parts of the world.
Thirdly, Pope Francis reminds us that we are created for relationship: a relationship with God, with our fellow human beings and with the earth. Sin has broken those relationships, and therefore we need the healing and forgiveness that God has provided for us by sending us his son, Jesus Christ, to come and live among us. And given the generosity of the Creator, believers have a responsibility to “care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters.”
The letter goes on to highlight various ways we can all exercise responsibility in healing our relationship with the environment and with human relationships. He calls those in agriculture to examine a more sustainable approach and to enter into dialogue. Catholic Rural Life has partnered with several organizations including Farmers Union and the International Catholic Rural Association to host a series of meetings, “Faith, Food and the Environment.” The purpose of this project is to help equip leaders in the food and agriculture industries with an understanding of how their faith can inform their work, underscoring the importance of stewardship of creation and the well-being of the human person in agricultural decision-making.
Finally, Pope Francis calls all of us, especially those living in rural communities, to a spiritual renewal, a conversion of heart and mind, that recognizes our errors, our sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and a desire to change. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to address the ecological problems in our time. We all have a role to play in “coming together to take charge of this home that has been entrusted to us.”