Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy continues to focus on the U.S. Bishop’s document For I Was Hungry and Your Gave Me Food.
For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food, the U.S. Bishops’ document on agricultural issues, continues to lend input to our social justice reflections. The bishops speak of the work of the Church in rural communities. This is a familiar topic for our Community as we have collectively experienced the close bonds, and the living faith as well as the challenges and stresses of farmers. The text goes on to remind us of the Church’s role beyond this pastoral activity as they state: “As bishops, we shall continue to share Catholic social teaching, to apply it to the ethical and human dimensions of agricultural issues, and to bring our values to agricultural decision making.”
What does the Church have in mind when they speak of applying Catholic social teaching ? The answer is in the next section of the document. “A key measure of every agricultural program and legislative initiative is whether it helps the most vulnerable farmers, farmworkers, and their families and whether it contributes to a global food system that provides basic nutrition for all.” We see the balance in the Church’s approach. All decisions should help maintain equilibrium between the needs of the farmers and the nutritional needs of the world.
The struggles facing family farmers and their employees have wide ranging effects. When farms are lost, small local businesses fail as well. This has its own effects on local and state economies. Policies and programs are needed that encourage rural development. This leads to the consideration of subsidies. The bishops write:
“Agricultural subsidies often go to a few large producers, while smaller family farms struggle to survive. Rather than simply rewarding production, which can lead to surpluses and falling prices, government resources should reward environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices. Because of rising land prices, the cost of sophisticated equipment, and the difficulty of making a living, government resources are also needed to help new farmers enter the field of agriculture. Resources should be targeted towards research that helps smaller farms remain viable and promotes environmentally sound agriculture. Programs that provide affordable insurance protection are essential so that farm families can start again if crops fail.”
What is our role in all of this? As always we can include family farmers and their communities in our prayers. We can pray for their safety, for good weather and for bountiful crops. We can also write to our legislators asking that they support or initiate efforts to provide subsidies such as those described by our bishops. This is part of our role as a religious community serving rural communities. This is a way to participate in serving the poor. Let us do whatever we can!