Migration, Development and Agriculture From the Point of View of Catholic Social Doctrine

Vatican Official on the ‘Desire for Progress for Millions of People’

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Here is a text from Monsignor Gabriele Bentoglio, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers. Monsignor Bentoglio is in St. Petersburg through Friday, marking an accord on education signed at the State University of St. Petersburg.

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1 . Introduction

Among the major documents that form the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, under the particular angle of attention to migration, we must at least mention Rerum novarum (1891), Populorum progressio (1967), Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987), Centesimus annus (1991), and Caritas in veritate (2009). This last document deals with the “integral human development”, but in the light of “charity in truth”, which is considered “the main force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity” (n. 1).

Today we have the opportunity for a thorough reflection on the relationship between migration and development and the rural world, formulating adequate responses to the concern for justice and the desire for progress for millions of people. In fact, today it is estimated that the number of international migrants is 232 million, while more than 900 million people, representing three-quarters of the world’s poor, live in rural areas in situations of need. Therefore, we are faced with important topics for the human family and therefore of direct concern of the Holy See and the Catholic Church because, according to their nature and mission, they are called to support, in every circumstance, the cause of humanity. It is often necessary to solicit adequate decisions, by the action of individual countries or through the various initiatives offered by international cooperation.

2 . Two guiding criteria: justice and the common good

With regard to the social doctrine of the Church, charity is its high road. Benedict XVI, in fact, wrote that “by [its] close link with truth, charity can be recognized as an authentic expression of humanity and as an element of fundamental importance in human relations, even of a public nature” (Caritas in veritate, n. 3). Here is the root of Christian humanism (Id. n. 78), which is many times quoted in the text of the Pope’s document and which is one of its characteristic expressions.

The Church’s social doctrine has two guiding criteria, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good (see Id. n. 7, 36, 78). In the context of migration I would like to emphasize in a special way the common good, according to which the Catholic Church proposes four principles for the legitimate regulation of migration flows by governments, namely:

1 . their commitment to ensure that it is not necessary for people living in poor countries having to emigrate to live in accordance with their human dignity (right to not migrate);

2 . the right to emigrate;

3 . the right of public authorities to regulate migration flows (with respect for the fundamental human rights of migrants and the distinction, in their mixed flows, among migrant workers and refugees and asylum seekers), bearing in mind the common good of the nation,

4 . but in the context of the universal common good (see Id. n. 7, cf. as well the final part of n. 34 and the affirmation of n. 35 that “the poor are not to be considered a «burden», but a resource even from a strictly economic point of view.” In any case, “every worker is a creator” (Id. n. 41).

3 . The re-evaluation of the values ​​of the agricultural world

In Chapter II of Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI says that “the world needs a profound cultural renewal and the rediscovery of fundamental values ​​on which to build a better future” (Id. n. 21). And, on Sunday prayer in St. Peter’s Square on November 14, 2010, the Pope said that in response to the global economic crisis a strategic revitalization of agriculture is required.

The current scenario, said the Pope, must be taken in all its seriousness, because it is “an acute symptom that is added to other more serious and already well known, such as the continuing imbalance between wealth and poverty, the scandal of hunger, environmental emergencies, and the problem of unemployment.”

It is therefore necessary, the Pontiff continued, “to re-evaluate agriculture not in a nostalgic sense, but as an indispensable resource for the future.”

“In fact – he added – the process of industrialization has often overshadowed the agricultural sector, which, while taking in turn benefit from the knowledge and modern techniques, it has declined in importance, with significant impact on the cultural level.”

In addition, “the temptation for the more dynamic economies is to chase advantageous alliances which, however, can have harmful effects for poorer states, prolonging situations of extreme poverty of the masses of men and women and draining the Earth’s natural resources.”

To this must be added that in the old industrialized countries are often incentivized “lifestyles marked by unsustainable consumption, which are also harmful to the environment and the poor.”

“It is necessary, then, in a truly unified way, a new balance between agriculture, industry and services, so that development is sustainable, no one go without bread and work, and the air, water and other primary resources be preserved as universal goods.”

It is essential, therefore, “to cultivate and spread a clear ethical awareness, the height of the most complex challenges of the present time; everyone should educate themselves to a more wise and responsible consumption; promote personal responsibility along with the social dimension of rural activities, based on values perennials, such as hospitality, solidarity, sharing the toil of labour.”

Finally, on the basis of the claim that “human beings as such feel realized in interpersonal relationships” (Caritas in veritate n . 53), one could propose, in the cultural context, the question of personal identity and also that of the various peoples, for “the unity of the human family does not abolish the identities of individuals, peoples and cultures, but makes them more transparent to each other, more close in their legitimate diversity” (cf. Id. n. 54).

4 . Correlation of the causes

Among the reasons why millions of men and women emigrate, the Catholic Church lists “the extreme insecurity of life, which is a result of food shortages” (Id. n. 27), the issue of water, agriculture (ibid.), environment (Id. n. 48), and energy (Id. n. 49), of course in combination with rights and duties (see Id. n. 43), and with attention to the direct link between “poverty and unemployment” and “decent work” (Id. n. 63), which is the right of all workers, even those who are irregular (see Id. n. 64 and the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all migrant Workers and members of their families”).

We have to keep in mind, however, that “there is room for everyone on this earth: on it the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself, a gift of God to his children, and with the commitment of their work and their own abilities” (Id. n. 50). In any case we must adopt “new lifestyles” (Id. n. 51), and this is closely connected with education (see Id. n. 61), without forgetting the need to create “a new economic and productive order, socially responsible and humane” (Id. n. 41).

Another cause of migration is globalization itself, of which human mobility is an expression.

The crisis that the world is experiencing proves, in fact, tha
t the development cannot only be technological and economic, that despite having “lifted billions of people out of misery” and “given many countries the possibility of becoming effective players in international politics”, development continues anyway “to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems” (Id. n. 21). The development must be one of “the totality of the person in every single dimension” (Id. n. 11), so that it does not become a goal in itself, but a means for the realization of the human person, “the destiny of humankind that cannot be separated from its nature” (Id. n. 21). In every human being there is the “image of God” that makes them “really discover each other and to mature in a love that «becomes concern and care for each other»” (Id. n. 11). Human beings develop through their relationships with others and, therefore, development cannot be an individual matter but necessarily a social one. It is, therefore, intended to contribute to the building of that “civilization animated by love” proposed by Pope Paul VI, “whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture” (Id. n. 33).

It is necessary, then, a greater closeness between people, which may be transformed into true communion, if you want to get the authentic development of peoples. In fact, it “depends primarily on the recognition of being a single family working together in true communion, made up of people who do not simply live next to one another” (Id. n. 53).

5 . Economic impact

However, it is interesting to note that the relationship between cultures has its fallout in the economic field. In the document Caritas in veritate, the Pope says that “the reduction of cultures to the technological dimension, whether in the short term may facilitate the obtaining of profits, in the long term impedes reciprocal enrichment and the dynamics of cooperation”, as “the worker tends to adapt passively to automatic mechanisms, rather than to release creativity” (Id. n. 32). And the technological development is born “from human creativity as a tool of personal freedom” (Id. n. 70).

It should be stressed that the worker, both the farmer and the migrant, is a person, “the image of God.” In fact, they are the subject of work and the various actions that they do, regardless of the type of activity, should lead to the realization of their humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a human person. It is not the kind of work being done to determine its value, but the fact that it is a person who implements it. So you cannot consider the worker “as a commodity or a mere workforce,” nor treat them “like any other factor of production.” The worker “possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (Id. n. 62).

The job search, which brings more and more men and women to cross the borders of their nations, with or without permission of the countries of destination, virtually involves all states in the migration phenomenon, as the land of origin, transit and / or destination. Therefore, the Pope writes that “we are facing a social phenomenon of epoch-making proportions that requires bold, forward-looking policies of international cooperation in order to be handled” (Id. n. 62). This policy calls for “close cooperation between the countries from which the migrants come and the countries in which they arrive,” assisted “by adequate international norms able to coordinate different legislative systems with a view to safeguarding the rights and needs of individuals and families emigrated and , at the same time, those of the host of the emigrants themselves” (Ibid.).

The themes of agriculture and environment are particularly dear to the Holy Father Francis, who at the General Audience on 5 June last said: “I arise the questions: what does it mean to cultivate and care for the earth? Are we truly cultivating and protecting the creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it? The verb «to grow» reminds me of the care of the farmer for his land so that it may bear fruit, and this fruit be shared: how much attention, passion and dedication! Cultivating and caring for creation is an indication of God given not only at the beginning of history, but to each one of us; it is part of its project; it means to let the world grow with responsibility, transform it to be a garden, a place of living space for everyone.”

6 . Perspectives of commitment

It is necessary to reinforce international solidarity in order to tackle the great challenge posed by the development of peoples, and doing this, the specific commitment to ensure effective food security for humanity, but it is also necessary to give valid answers to the expectations of those who work the land, small farmers, artisans, and their families, who live and work in rural areas. In fact, it must be eliminated the risk that the rural economy can be considered as a secondary one, or even forgotten, losing those fruitful elements of social, economic and spiritual order that characterize it.

The present situation of the rural world highlights how the global exchange, the use of modern techniques and constant progress in research allow an increment, including a rapid one, of production as well as the levels of human development. It is a reality that cannot be overlooked or denied, but it must be accepted and valued, provided that it is recognized as an additional instrument of creation offered to the human family and not as a disruption of the natural order.

As for the ideal of the common purpose of goods, unfortunately these are often concentrated in the hands of a few people, excluding those who are not able to enjoy them and who are limited in their deepest aspirations or even deprived of the conditions of dignity. Keeping in mind the numerous issues related to agrarian reform and rural development, we should recall the unchanging principle that “God gave the earth and all it contains to all persons and all peoples” (Gaudium et Spes n. 69) as an inspiring and shared criterion of a social and economic order that engage and motivate every member of the human family. Based on this principle, the social doctrine of the Catholic Church has often expressed its condemnation of the estate as intrinsically illegitimate (e.g. Populorum Progressio n. 23; Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”, n. 300, 2004).

This policy assumes greater importance when one considers the distribution of goods within the same country, giving rise, especially in rural areas of developing countries, to living conditions far short of satisfying basic needs. In rural areas situations of poverty, exploitation, lack of access to the market, social exclusion become more acute when, at the same time, there is lack of protection for those who work the land. In fact, they are subjected to poor living conditions, since their work is affected by adverse weather and natural disasters, as well as by the fact of not having the resources to cope with the shortage or the loss of crops, resulting in gradual abandonment of agricultural activity with the illusion, often misleading, to find best answers to poverty in urban areas.

There is another element that affects the future of rural areas, which is the responsibility of the present generations to maintain and protect the nature and its resources, as well as the various ecosystems that belong to the rural areas (agriculture, forestry, wildlife, water, and atmosphere). Often the lack of a proper relationship between the earth and those who cultivate it, the uncertainty in the title of ownership or possession, lack of access to credit, as well as other situations that affect small farmers, are the cause of excessive exploitation of natural resources with no other goal than immediate profit.

is, then, the question of land ownership, an element of fundamental importance in economic and agrarian policies that can effectively promote rural development and at the same time to ensure social justice, political stability and peaceful coexistence. It is known that, as pointed out by many scholars, the insecure access to land is one of the main causes of rural poverty.

The question becomes even more worrying when conflicts, epidemics and forced migration shift the responsibility for the household exclusively on women. Traditional customs and rules often prevent women from having access to land ownership. Therefore some measures are taken in order to give to women, who are at the centre of familial and social responsibilities, a fair legal recognition of their role and capacity.

The reduction in the concentration of land must serve “to increase income, improve working conditions, increase job security and encourage personal initiative, and even reforms that give way to distribute insufficiently cultivated estates for the benefit of those who are able to make them bear fruit” (Gaudium et Spes n. 71). This can mean the promotion of some forms of enterprise, including the small family agricultural enterprise, and cooperative structures that can operate autonomously and effectively, as well as access to credit for small farmers and, not least, training in modern approaches related to appropriate technology and to agricultural production and marketing. This can prevent negative effects on the levels of production and the migratory movement of population, for which there is often the abandonment of the countryside and an excessive demographic pressure around major population centres or to areas where there is a lack of the necessary infrastructure.

The Catholic Church has always paid particular attention to the rural world and its values, well aware that its main characteristics – for example, a human scale of living conditions, the immediate knowledge of order, harmony and beauty of the cosmos, the satisfaction of hard work, the generous exchange of services in correct individual behaviour and relations with others – can be found in all times and in all places on the planet. Furthermore, the Catholic Church is aware of the importance that rural society gives to religion, present in individual and community life, in work and family, and especially as a source of moral principles capable of permeating society, providing stability and integrity in the adversity and obstacles of every day.


The Catholic Church, facing the great challenges of our time in the fields of agriculture, development and migration, warns against the risk “that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development” (Caritas in veritate n. 9). The authentic development, in fact, comes from the “sharing of goods and resources,” which “is not only ensured by technical progress and relationships of mere convenience, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good, and is open to reciprocity of consciences and freedoms” (Ibid.).

I conclude with the words that Pope Francis addressed to the participants at the 38th Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, on June 20, 2013, saying: “You need to find ways so that everyone can benefit from the fruits of the earth not only to prevent it widens the gap between those who have more and those who have to settle for the crumbs, but also for a requirement of justice and fairness, and respect for every human being.”

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