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ADDRESS TO THE XXIII SESSION 
OF THE CONFERENCE OF FAO

 

"The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry" (Ps 145 (146) :6-7).

1. These words of the Responsorial Psalm, which we have listened to in today's liturgy, are more significant than ever in the context of the celebration of the Fortieth Anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization. I have accepted with great pleasure the invitation extended to me to take part in this celebration.

I address a cordial and respectful greeting to the experts representing the Member States of FAO, and to the senior officials, and I express my appreciation for their work and for the lofty purposes to which they are directing their efforts.

I greet all the other personalities and the members of the faithful who have wished to join us in this Eucharistic Liturgy of thanksgiving.

Your presence, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen and dear Brothers and Sisters, reminds us of the efforts made by FAO to eliminate the obstacles and imbalances which impede the dynamism of production, such as is required for a proper distribution of the basic necessities of life. There is no need to say how close the Church is to you in this work of human solidarity. Having as her mission the continuation in time of the teachings and actions of the Divine Master, she does not cease to hear anew that moving exclamation that rose from his heart at the sight of the hungry multitude: "I have compassion on the crowd, because they have... nothing to eat; and I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way" (Mt 15:32).

There is no doubt that the present world situation confirms the most important and irreplaceable function of FAO.

There is first of all the matter of supporting the continued development of the food self-sufficiency of each people, especially by increasing production and bringing about a fairer distribution of the resources available.

In addition to this basic action are the exceptional operations for emergency aid. Unfortunately, at present there are ever increasing requests for urgent interventions in particular zone and continents, such as the request of many African countries stricken by drought and famine. Food crises are increasing in number not only as a result of adverse climatic conditions and natural disasters, but also as a result of conflicts caused by economic policies which are not always suitable and by the forced transfers of populations.

Thus there are added ever greater commitments in order to meet in an adequate way the obvious needs of the population, including the people yet to be born, to respond to the requests of Governments and to establish lines of joint and agreed action between Member States of the Organization.

2. This solemn celebration also reminds me of the Fortieth Anniversary of the United Nations Organization, around which we see the harmonious operating of the whole system of specialized Inter-Governmental Organizations. The Holy See very willingly associated itself with the commemoration of this anniversary, which recalls the coming into force of the Charter of the United Nations. Through the Cardinal Secretary of State, I have sent to Mr Jaime De Piniés, President of the Fortieth General Assembly of the UN, a message reaffirming the moral support that the Holy See has always given to this Organization from its very beginning, and I have encouraged specific cooperation aimed at promoting true peace and fruitful understanding between individuals and national communities.

On various occasions, the Church has expressed her esteem for and affirmation of this supreme forum of the families of peoples, and she constantly supports its functions and initiatives aimed at favouring sincere collaboration between the Nations. On this Fortieth Anniversary, I wish to express once again my gratitude for the invitation extended to me in October 1979 to speak before the Representatives of that General Assembly. That invitation was especially significant for me because, as I said at that solemn meeting, it "shows that the United Nations Organization accepts and respects the religious and moral dimension of those human problems that the Church attends to, in view of the message of truth and love that it is her duty to bring to the world" (AAS 71, p. 1146). During these forty years the international community has seen the Church and the United Nations Organization in ever increasing cooperation and solidarity, in defence "of man in his wholeness, in all the fullness and manifold riches of his spiritual and material existence' (Ibid., p. 1146).

At a moment in history when technology was being directed to the purposes of war, hegemony and conquest, and when man was killing man and nations destroying nations, the birth of this Organization was greeted by those preoccupied about humanity's destiny as a new safeguard of peace and hope, and as the real way destined to lead to the recognition and respect of the inalienable rights of individuals and of the communities of peoples.

It is my hope that this Anniversary will strengthen that conviction and in particular - as I said in the Message of 14 October last - reinforce the moral and juridical authority of this Organization for the safeguarding of peace and for international cooperation in favour of the development and freedom of all peoples.

The United Nations will fulfil its high mission all the more effectively if in each Member State the conviction grows that to govern people means to serve a plan of higher justice. The courageous and hope-filled vision that inspired those who drew up the 1945 Charter must never be disavowed, in spite of the difficulties and obstacles which it has encountered during these forty years. That vision will remain the ideal point of reference until those obstacles have been overcome. This is the fervent desire that I wish to renew at this liturgical celebration, as I pray to the Lord for the success of all efforts in favour of the cause of peace.

3. The scene presented by today's Gospel underlines the relationship between rich and poor by illustrating the difference of behaviour between the Scribes and the widow. In the modern world this contrast is being repeated by the disproportionate stages of development in different countries, a contrast which is currently referred to as the North-South relationship.

The Messiah utters a negative judgment in regard to those who live in luxury and wealth and who despise the poor; in regard to the rich who do not give to the poor as much as they might, or who, even when they do give, do so with an ostentation that betrays the fact that they are seeking their own glory: "Beware of the scribes who like to accept marks of respect in public and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets" (Mk 12:38-39).

The words of the Responsorial Psalm, "The Lord upholds the widow and the orphan", (Ps 145(146):9) contrast with what the Gospel says about the Scribes, dismissing their external appearance of piety which is contradicted by the arbitrary judgments and injustices which they practise: "They devour the houses of widows and recite long prayers for appearances sake" (Mk 12:40).

On the other hand Jesus gives very high praise to the hidden gesture of the poor widow, who generously gives even what she needs for herself, and he contrasts this act with the offerings of so many rich people who give "sizable amounts", but with ostentation.

4. Jesus' warning invites us today to examine ourselves: to ask ourselves, that is, if the coming of the Kingdom has really caused the situations of power and extravagance existing in the world to be overturned. This could have happened if each individual had matched his or her faith with logical action, especially with regard to efforts in favour of the very poor, the marginal people and the despised.

Individuals and whole peoples will be finally judged by history in relation to how they actually fulfil their obligation to contribute to the good of their fellow human beings, in proportion to their own prosperity and in an effective spirit of worldwide shared responsibility according to justice.

It is to be hoped that everyone - individuals, groups, private undertakings and public bodies - will take proper care of the most needy, beginning with the basic right to satisfy one's own hunger.

Each individual should prepare, by present actions, so as to be ready to welcome the Messiah when he appears a second time and says: "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34).

5. What is being proposed is an examination of conscience that certainly begins with the personal life of each individual, concerning each one's awareness of wealth and poverty.

Today you are called to acknowledge the privilege of collaborating actively and loyally within the structures of international society. A true sense of responsibility in the proper use of the resources placed at the disposal of FAO demands above all that each person should possess and perfect his or her own professional skill and apply it seriously and accurately to the fulfilment of daily duties.

But the examination of conscience also extends to the level of the obligation of the Member States of FAO to work together in the selection of internal and international policies with concrete proposals that will lead to timely decisions and adequate results.

It is very important to achieve relationships based on international justice between the peoples of the whole world and their States. But it is urgently necessary that solidarity between wealthier countries should be intensified, with a wider application of multilateral arrangements.

Reflection on one's obligations as a Member of FAO, and more broadly within the United Nations system, should lead to an affirmation of the duty of each people to contribute in proportion both to its own conditions of prosperity and to the needs of others.

It is desirable that a "World Treaty of Food Security" - such as the one which will be placed before the FAO Conference for its approval - should be considered and recognized as having the value not only of an ethical requirement but also as having juridical force. It is to be hoped that the Act which the Assembly approves will be given such effectiveness, at least vis-à-vis the Member States, in the forms considered appropriate according to present day international law.

6. On the other hand, it has to be recognized that there are recurring episodes of distrust and a frequent unwillingness to assume real and definite commitments which would adequately respond to needs and would subsequently be effectively maintained.

Too often, various forms of nationalism and protectionism hinder both the availability of foodstuffs vital to all without discrimination, and the transfer of the same from high-producing countries to countries less well provided. Such obstacles and modes of conduct openly contradict the principles of real justice in a spirit of solidarity and the putting into practice of the asserted readiness to cooperate with the providential power of God.

The Eucharistic Liturgy reminds us that Christ, Priest and Victim, offers himself also today without any limits. "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26). He immolated himself on the Cross for all humanity, "to bear the sins of many" (Heb 2:28). He gave himself in order to conquer the sin of selfishness that often makes itself felt in the history of human society.

The Eucharist, which renews the supreme offering of Christ and his immolation for the salvation of his, brethren, demands and effects purification of the heart from selfishness, so that the heart opens to others with a spirit of solidarity and of effective fraternal love.

It is necessary to go beyond the limits of strict justice, in imitation of the exemplary conduct of the widow, who teaches us to give with generosity even that which is meant for our own needs.

Above all one must remember that God does not measure human actions by a standard which stops at the appearances of "how much" is given. God measures according to the standard of the interior values of "how" one places oneself at the disposal of one's neighbour: he measures according to the degree of love with which one freely dedicates oneself to the service of the brethren.

7. The Church, which continues the religious mission of Christ, offers the necessary strength for constantly working according to justice in solidarity. Through Christ, who fully assumes a human nature and links it to the divine richness, living communion with God as Love is possible. This innermost strength of God can sustain human endeavours, in order that the fundamental law of life and of human co-existence according to the twofold principle of love of God and love of neighbour can be realized.

Just as the Prophet Elijah does not hesitate to ask the widow for her own share of her sustenance, the Pope does not hesitate today to ask the Representatives of FAO to continue to support and develop the ordinary activities and the operations to be practically set in motion in favour of the poorest of the world.

The Church offers the initiatives of her own institutions and associations which operate among the various peoples and on the different continents.

Above all the Church claims as her obligation and inalienable right the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, especially those charitable works of mutual assistance intended for the alleviation of every human need (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8).

The Church likewise encourages every activity of the Non-Governmental Organizations. In recent time these Organizations have been asserting themselves through their growing strength, and they are proving an efficient element in the concerted action that the whole of humanity must undertake for the benefit of the poorest of the poor. The Church hopes however that those voluntary activities will be carried out in a truly disinterested manner and beyond all partisan spirit.

Finally, the Church wants to share in the updated awareness of the work done by FAO in order to form public opinion in such a way that the latter will encourage the public authorities and private individuals in each Nation to undertake ever broader initiatives in support of food and agricultural development and will secure active and constant sharing by all in worldwide action.

With this celebration we wish to thank the Lord for the good accomplished and for the generous contributions made hitherto.

I hope that this will also be an occasion for a renewed commitment of each individual to ever more efficient and timely action in the future, according to the obligations and degrees of responsibility that each individual has in contemporary society.

10 November 1985

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