EVERY human being has a right to food, and no business plan or economic policy can override that right, Pope Francis told world leaders gathered in Rome.
“The struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities’ and the ‘primacy of profit’, which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature,” the Pope said on November 20 in an address to the Second International Conference on Nutrition.
Sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, the November 19-21 meeting brought together officials responsible for health, food and agriculture from 170 countries.
While international discussions often seem preoccupied with defining “new rights”, Pope Francis told them, people who are “hungry remain on the street corners and ask to be recognised as citizens, to receive a healthy diet”.
“They ask for dignity, not for charity,” the Pope told the leaders.
“Every woman, man, child, elderly person must be able to count on these guarantees: love, justice, peace. Everywhere,” the Pope said. “It is the obligation of every state, attentive to the well-being of its citizens, to adopt them without reserve and work for their application.”
Arriving in the FAO conference room, Pope Francis’ face lit up when he saw Queen Letizia of Spain, who had just addressed the meeting. She curtsied before the Pope and kissed his ring.
The Pope’s 40-minute visit to the FAO headquarters also included a brief meeting with the organisation’s permanent staff. He thanked them for their often-hidden efforts to ensure that “men, women, children and grandparents” around the world have adequate, nutritious food.
He also spoke about the importance of their work to ensure access to clean water.
“Water isn’t free, like we so often think,” he said. Access to clean water “is a serious problem that can lead to war”.
In his main talk to the international conference, Pope Francis told delegates: “If we believe in the principle of the unity of the human family, based on the common paternity of God the Creator, and in the fraternity of human beings, no form of political or economic pressure that exploits the availability of foodstuffs can be considered acceptable. No political or economic pressure.”
In an ad-libbed addition to his speech, he asked: “And what of our sister and mother, Earth? Are we free of political or economic pressure so we can care for her to avoid self-destruction?”
“I remember something I heard from an old man many years ago: ‘God always forgives offences and mistakes. Men sometimes forgive. The earth never forgives’,” the Pope told his audience. “Care for sister earth, mother earth, because if not, she will respond with destruction.”
Pope Francis noted that St John Paul II had addressed the first International Conference on Nutrition in 1992 and warned about the “paradox of plenty”, which was the fact that there was enough food to feed everyone in the world, but still some people went hungry while others over-ate, wasted food or used edible products for other purposes.
“Unfortunately,” Pope Francis said, “this paradox remains relevant.”
As he has said many times, the Pope told the delegates that he was afraid that the word “solidarity” risked being erased from the dictionary because it seemed to be disappearing from reality.
“Our societies are characterised by growing individualism and division: This ends up depriving the weakest of a decent life and provokes revolts against institutions,” he said. “When there is a lack of solidarity in a country, the effects are felt throughout the world.”