PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
10-11 November 2003
I warmly greet and thank all the participants who have accepted, with generous availability, the invitation to bring to this Seminar their qualified contribution of science and experience which will usefully clarify and illuminate the complex questions regarding GMOs. I hope this occasion to meet and study will be for all of us a stimulus for personal growth, and at the same time an opportunity to exercise a common and shared responsibility.
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has organized and promoted this meeting with the intention of collecting the great number of informative data on GMOs that will consequently serve to assist an ethical and pastoral discernment which each day becomes more necessary and undelayable. Beyond the pressures, coming from many sources and bringing to us many diverse and in some way incompatible needs, which the Holy See has also felt, we wish that this Seminar takes place in a serene and composed climate, in order to favor a fruitful exchange, a deeper dialogue and disinterested research.
The title of our Seminar, "GMOs: Threat or Hope?", encapsulates well the different approaches that, at different levels, surround GMOs. For our part, we are fully aware that the stakes are high and delicate, for the polarization that divides public opinion, for the commercial controversies that exist at the international level, for the difficulty to define, at a scientific level, a matter that is the object of rapidly-evolving research, for the complex ethical-cultural and ethical- political implications. This Pontifical Council senses the responsibility of having to address a very complicated problem that revives, for certain sides, the question relative to the relation between faith and science. This Dicastery wants to undertake this task fully, benefiting from the treasure of your scientific knowledge and experience and, at the same time, supporting the age-old wisdom of the Church and her doctrine that allow us to find, with balance and in truth, a point of useful synthesis and to enrich the people of our time, especially the poor.
From the program of work one easily sees that the Seminar has been structured in four working sessions: GMOs and scientific research; GMOs, food and trade; GMOs and environmental and health security; and GMOs and moral implications. From the methodological point of view, the heart of our work will be the open discussion of the themes that will be briefly introduced by each of the speakers. The discussion must take place in liberty, with respect for the different positions and enriched by the extraordinary competencies present in this room. Among the participants of our Seminar are also some Ministers of the Italian government, whose presence here merits a word of explanation: It seemed very opportune to invite them for the reason of the fact that Italy holds in this semester of 2003 the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. I wish to thank them for having accepted the invitation and for the contribution they offer to our work. At the end of each session, a meeting with the press has been foreseen in order to provide journalists with timely and suitable information.
Many have demonstrated a bit of wonder and astonishment at this initiative of the Pontifical Council, asking what is the reason that justifies it. It concerns, also in this case, following a profound and essential need of the religious and moral mission of the Church, that of illuminating with the light of the Gospel the promotion of man and the affirmation of his dignity. The Church does it, respecting the natural law, making the results of scientific research fruitful, realizing the message of Sacred Scripture and applying the principles of her social doctrine.
For such a proposition, and to conclude my brief introduction, permit me to share with you a very pertinent and instructive lesson that comes to us from the first chapters of the Bible where one speaks of creation. In the design of the Creator, in fact, created reality, good in itself, exists for the function of man. Having created him in his image and likeness, He wants man to be "master of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth" (Gen 1:26). The wonder before the mystery of the greatness of man makes the psalmist exclaim: "What is man that you should remember him, the son of man that you should care for him? Yet you have made him little less than the angels, you have crowned him with glory and honor, made him lord over the work of your hands, set all things under his feet" (Ps 8:5-7).
Yet the dominion of man over all living things must not be a despotic or foolish dominion; on the contrary, he must "cultivate and care" for the goods created by God. Goods that man has received as a precious gift, put by the Creator under his responsibility. The prohibition on eating "from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen 2:17) reminds man that he has received everything as a free gift and that he continues to be a creature and will never be the Creator. The sin of our fathers provoked this very temptation: "to become like God" (Gen 3:5). Adam and Eve wanted to have absolute dominion over all things, without submitting themselves to the will of the Creator. So man will have to draw food from the soil with pain and eat bread with sweat on his brow (cf. Gen 3:17-19).
Despite sin, the design of the Creator, the sense of his creatures and among these, of man, called to be cultivators and custodians of creation, remain unaltered. Man, gifted with intelligence thanks to which he is capable of grasping the sense of things, must care for the goods of the earth, which he has received as a gift. Gifted with the capacity to discover the causes, laws, and mechanisms that govern beings, living and non, and consequently capable of intervening on beings, man must utilize this capacity to "cultivate" and not destroy. To cultivate means to intervene, decide, do, not leave plants to grow by chance. To cultivate means to strengthen and perfect, so that better and more abundant fruits result. To cultivate means to order, clean, eliminate that which destroys and ruins. To cultivate is the best way of caring.
Thanks to all and good work!
Renato Raffaele Card. Martino