Speech by CARLO PETRINI – Monday October 14, 2019 – 9th General Congregation – Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region
Dear Pope Francis, thank you for having invited me to this extraordinary assembly. Taking point 47 of the Instrumentum Labori as a starting point, I would like to talk about the value of food as a relational element.
Over the last 20 years, we have seen the consolidation of the concept of food sovereignty, according to which every people and every community has the right to choose what to cultivate, what to eat and how to ensure access to food while respecting the rules of ecosystems. The sharing of food can build positive relationships, not just with ourselves but also with other human beings and most importantly with our Mother Earth. This is why it plays a fundamental role in the journey towards integral ecology. Food, when it is good, clean and fair, has an extraordinary power that can protect human and natural biodiversity, encourage interaction and cross-fertilization and guarantee good health. This concept and the practices that result from it are being made real thanks to the work of the world’s humblest people.
Who are these people, not just in Amazonia but in every part of the world? First and foremost, women. In the life of each one of us is a mother or a grandmother who by teaching us about the correct consumption of food transmitted to us that emotional intelligence that underpins our existence: the intelligence of the heart.
And what about the unparalleled work of indigenous people? Often they are relegated to the secondary status of gatherer, less recognized compared to the work of farmers. But it is a huge mistake to see gathering as inferior to agriculture. When the gathering is intelligent and respects the environment, it can protect forest ecosystems, safeguard biodiversity and ensure a harvest for future generations. A significant share of food biodiversity in the Amazon has yet to be identified. This is not just a question of raw materials, but also the know-how of the indigenous populations. They should be given credit for having defended this heritage, this “gift from the ancestors.”
We must be careful that a similar mechanism to what can be seen in the medical field does not take hold. Plants and active ingredients have made fortunes for the pharmaceutical multinationals, with local populations receiving nothing. Let’s hope the same does not happen in the food industry! Because a growing humanity in need of food cannot allow this common good to be exploited by the few and not made freely available to the many. The threat of agroindustry, the concentration of power and the rise of monocultures and factory farms, linked to deforestation, the climate crisis and the increasing gap between rich and poor, must be challenged with great determination.
We are experiencing times of great change. The global community seems indifferent to the impending disaster. The noble and innovative vision of the Laudato Si’ has not yet been fully understood by the secular world and to a considerable extent not by the Catholic world either. We are marching blithely towards the edge of the cliff. If when we reach the edge of this abyss, Homo sapiens is still sapiens, we will have to stop and turn back. At that moment those who had been last will be at the head. The elderly, the indigenous, the women, the poor, the youth will show us the way, with compassion for all. I urge all of you, dear brothers and fellow travelers, to meet this moment—when it happens—with great joy. In the end the compassion that renders us more free and happy will not be the compassion that we rightly give out, but the compassion we receive from the good example of those who were last. I’ll borrow Augustine’s maxim, “Verba movent, exempla trahunt” (Words move, examples compel). These days we have need of great examples, and this synod is a clear demonstration of that.