The Pope visited the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, where some 60 heads of state and delegates from 192 countries are gathered to consider the problem that one in six people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight.
"Statistics bear witness to the dramatic growth in the number of people suffering from hunger [...] notwithstanding the known fact that the world has enough food for all its inhabitants," the Holy Father said. "Indeed, while low levels of agricultural production persist in some regions, partly owing to climate change, sufficient food is produced on a global scale to satisfy both current demands and those in the foreseeable future.
"From these data we may deduce that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between population growth and hunger," he said. And he contended this is further demonstrated by the "lamentable destruction of foodstuffs for economic gain."
The Holy Father's observation seconded an analysis from the director-general of FAO, Jacques Diouf, who noted, "In some developed countries, 2% to 4% of the population are able to produce enough food to feed the entire nation and even to export, while in the majority of developing countries, 60% to 80% of the population are not able to meet country food needs."
Benedict XVI spoke to the world leaders about the Catholic social doctrine principle of subsidiarity -- according to which a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order.
He noted that the poorest countries are more integrated into world economy than they used to be, and yet, sometimes they are still forced to seek the aid of intergovernmental institutions.
This type of cooperation, the Holy Father suggested, "must be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity: It is necessary to involve 'local communities in choices and decisions that affect the use of agricultural land.'"
In fact, the declaration approved today at the FAO three-day summit reflects a change in strategy to focus on agriculture in poor countries. It is expected that re-focusing will better equip the world's hungry to help themselves, rather than depending on outside food assistance.
"Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the beginning of the summit.
Benedict XVI was adamant that a solution to world hunger must be found, saying that it is not something to get used to.
He forcefully contested what he called a "tendency to view hunger as structural, an integral part of the socio-political situation of the weakest countries, a matter of resigned regret, if not downright indifference."
"It is not so, and it must never be so," he said.
Instead, the Pope called for fighting and conquering hunger, saying that to make this happen "it is essential to start redefining the concepts and principles that have hitherto governed international relations, in such a way as to answer the question: What can direct the attention and the consequent conduct of states toward the needs of the poorest?"
"The response," the Bishop of Rome affirmed, "must be sought not in the technical aspects of cooperation, but in the principles that lie behind it: Only in the name of common membership of the worldwide human family can every people and therefore every country be asked to practice solidarity, that is, to shoulder the burden of concrete responsibilities in meeting the needs of others, so as to favor the genuine sharing of goods, founded on love."
Not just love
Nevertheless, Benedict XVI clarified, solving the problem of world hunger is not just a question of charity.
He explained: "[W]hile it is true that human solidarity inspired by love goes beyond justice -- because to love is to give, to offer what is 'mine' to the other -- it is never without justice, which leads us to give the other what is 'his,' what belongs to him by virtue of his being and acting. Indeed, I cannot 'give' the other what is 'mine,' without first giving him what belongs to him in justice."
"Sufficient, healthy and nutritious food, and likewise water" are a "fundamental right of the individual," he recalled.
In eliminating hunger, the Pope added, international action is needed to find new parameters -- and not just ethical ones, but also juridical and economic parameters, which are "capable of inspiring the degree of cooperation required to build a relationship of parity between countries at different stages of development."
He cited St. Paul in this regard: "I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.'"
Cruel and concrete
Benedict XVI concluded calling hunger the "most cruel and concrete sign of poverty."
"Opulence and waste," he said, "are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions."
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