The Holy See
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FAO Headquarters, Rome
Monday, 17 October 2005


Heads of State and Government,
Mr Director General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to be taking part in this extraordinary assembly to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. I convey to you all the respectful greeting of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who has asked me to convey to you all his cordial good wishes for the success of your work.

Today, we are recording an important anniversary. It reminds us of the felicitous occasion of the establishment of the FAO that came into being to free humanity from the spectre of hunger by promoting agricultural projects in every country, with an effective cooperation between States.

This is an ever timely goal. Indeed, it is becoming more urgent than ever in the face of a world situation in which peoples are affected by terrible and recurrent food crises, whereas there are other countries whose abundant production gives rise to numerous questions regarding their lifestyle.

Today, the FAO is faced by a world which, despite certain painful divisions, expresses a growing need to focus together on common objectives in order to give a sense of solidarity to the coexistence of the human family.

I therefore feel I should offer special thanks to all who work at the FAO and in particular to you, Mr Director General, to whom I once again express my deepest gratitude for the ongoing commitment to such an important sector as that of food and agriculture.

One date escapes no one:  the establishment of the FAO coincides with the formation of the larger "family of Nations" with whose ideals the Organization is associated, as is clearly emphasized by the harmony between the key principles that govern its Constitutions and those contained in the United Nations Charter.

To promote agricultural development and the formation of conditions that fully guarantee the fundamental right to nutrition is a crucial contribution to the cause of international security, hence, to peace. In founding the FAO on 16 October 1945, the International Community did not only express the wish to reinforce an effective cooperation between the States in such a fundamental sector as agriculture, but also gave a hint of its intention to find ways of guaranteeing sufficient food for the whole world through a rational sharing of the fruits of the earth.

Today, 60 years later, we must not allow the enormous difficulties still inherent in this task to undermine the firmness of the commitment.

The celebration of an anniversary is a time to reflect on what has been achieved so far and on the obstacles that stand in the way of future action. In practical terms, what factors are preventing international action from changing the world situation towards a dimension worthy of the human person?

It is well known that it is possible at a global level to make sufficient food available to satisfy the needs of all. So why do so many people risk dying of starvation?

There are many reasons for this paradoxical situation in which abundance and scarcity live side by side. One consists in the fact that certain forms of development aid are subordinate to the actuation on the part of poorer countries of structural-adjustment policies in order to allow them access to the market of agricultural products. Then in the more developed countries, there is a consumer culture that tends to exalt false needs to the detriment of real ones.

An effective campaign against hunger therefore requires far more than a mere indication of the correct functioning of market mechanisms or techniques for obtaining higher standards of food production.

It is becoming necessary, first of all, to rediscover the meaning of the human being in his or her individual and community dimension, starting with family life, where a sense of solidarity and sharing is born. I have before me the example of the rural family called to handle the small family business with its work, but also to pass on the idea of relations based on the exchange of reciprocal knowledge, values, prompt assistance and respect. This picture corresponds well with the need to build relations between peoples on the basis of a constant and authentic availability, which can prepare every country to satisfy the necessities of those in need.

Distinguished Authorities, the Catholic Church is close to you in your endeavours at the service of the common good, as is testified by the attention with which the Holy See has followed the FAO's activity since 1948. In celebrating this 60th anniversary with you, the Apostolic See desires to assure you of its constant support in your commitment to the human cause, which in practice means openness to life, respect for the order of creation and adherence to those ethical principles that have always been at the root of social life.

My hope is also addressed to all who work at every level to guarantee the efficacy of the Organization's action:  it is the wish that they may be able to convey in their contribution through their technical and professional service not only excellency, but also relations of true friendship that are expressed in sincere esteem for the different traditions and cultures of the earth's peoples.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the dawn of universal peace, linking it to an image that has great significance for the FAO: there will be peace, in fact, when the peoples "beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks" (Is 2: 4).

These words suggest the fight against hunger as a priority commitment that aims to provide everyone with the means to earn his or her daily bread, instead of channelling resources to conflicts and wars. The more that is spent on weapons, the less there is for the hungry.

The fight against hunger is the arduous task to which you, who are responsible for the FAO, are called, together with the organizers of the World Food Programme. Through me, Pope Benedict XVI sends you his warm encouragement for this commitment at the service of the international community.

May Almighty God, Giver of all good things, pour out abundant Blessings upon your work.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English 45 p.8.