Earlier today, Pope Benedict told a group of representatives from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), currently holding their 33rd conference, that dialogue and respect between cultures must be part of the international effort to curb hunger and poverty.
In his address to the group, which included Jacques Diouf, FAO’s general director, the Pope said that this first ever meeting "allows me to see at close hand your efforts in the service of a great ideal: that of liberating humanity from hunger."
He also expressed his "sincere appreciation for the programs which the FAO, in its diverse agencies, has carried out for the past sixty years, defending with competence and professionalism the cause of man, beginning precisely with the basic right of each person to be 'free of hunger'."
Pope Benedict also hit on the paradox that even as progress in the areas of the economy, science and technology continue, so too does the increase of poverty.
With this, he expressed his hope that the FAO’s accumulated experience may "help to develop a method adequate to the task of combating hunger and poverty, one shaped by that concrete realism which has always characterized the work of your distinguished organization."
He noted that the FAO has "worked for broader cooperation and has seen in the 'dialogue of cultures' a specific means of ensuring greater development and secure access to food.”
“Today more than ever,” he stressed, “there is a need for concrete, effective instruments for eliminating the potential for conflict between different cultural, ethnic and religious visions. There is a need to base international relations on respect for the person and on the cardinal principles of peaceful coexistence and fidelity to commitments undertaken.”
The Pope also added however, the need to “recognize that technical progress ... is not everything. True progress ... enables each people to share its own spiritual and material resources for the benefit of all.”
"Here”, he said, “I wish to mention the importance of helping native communities, all too often subjected to undue appropriations aimed at profit, as your organization recently pointed out in its 'Guidelines on the Right to Food.'“
Benedict also asked listeners to recall that, “while some areas are subject to international measures and controls, millions of people are condemned to hunger, even outright starvation, in areas where violent conflicts are taking place, conflicts which public opinion tends to neglect because they are considered internal, ethnic or tribal."
He did however, identify one "encouraging sign" in the "initiative of the FAO to convene its member States to discuss the issue of agrarian reform and rural development.”
“This is not a new area,” he pointed out, “but one in which the Church has always shown interest, out of particular concern for small rural farmers who represent a significant part of the active population especially in developing countries.”
Mentioning potential courses of action, the Pope suggested that leaders “ensure that rural populations receive the resources and tools which they need, beginning with education and training, as well as organizational structures capable of safeguarding small family farms and cooperatives."
Benedict ended his address with a few words about an upcoming meeting in Hong Kong which will look at negotiations on international commerce, particularly with regard to farm products.
"The Holy See, he said, "is confident that a sense of responsibility and solidarity with the most disadvantaged will prevail, so that narrow interests and the logic of power will be set aside.”
“It must not be forgotten”, he added, “that the vulnerability of rural areas has significant repercussions on the subsistence of small farmers and their families if they are denied access to the market. ... Support should also be given to the role of rural women and at the same time to children for whom not only nutrition but also basic education must be assured."