Speaking for the hungry, Francis again critiques global market system

Rome — Pope Francis again critiqued the global market system Thursday, telling delegates to a U.N.-sponsored meeting on nutrition that the struggle to eradicate global hunger is hindered by how the market prices foods necessary for life.

Speaking to a meeting of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, the pontiff said today, there is "much talk of rights, frequently neglecting duties" and that "perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry."

"It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by 'market priorities,' the 'primacy of profit,' which have reduced foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation, also of a financial nature," the pontiff continued.

"While we speak of new rights, the hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet," Francis said in a rare instance of speaking his native Spanish publicly.

Using the plural form, the pontiff continued: "We ask for dignity, not for charity."

Francis spoke Thursday at the FAO's Second International Conference on Nutrition, being held Nov. 19-21 in Rome. The conference has seen a wide range of heads of state and government ministers address issues of hunger and malnutrition.

For his part, the pontiff focused his remarks on the impact of hunger on the individual person, the exploitation of food commodities, and concepts taken from the church's social doctrine.

Mentioning specifically solidarity, Francis said that was a word "we suspect that subconsciously we would like to remove this word from the dictionary."

"Our societies are characterized by growing individualism and division: this ends up depriving the weakest of a decent life, and provokes revolts against institutions," he continued.

Francis also criticized what he called a "mutual suspicion" nations have toward one another.

"The fates of nations are intertwined, more than ever before; they are like the members of one family who depend upon each other," Francis said.

"However, we live in a time in which the relations between nations are too often damaged by mutual suspicion, that at times turns into forms of military and economic aggression, undermining friendship between brothers and rejecting or discarding what is already excluded," the pontiff continued.

"He who lacks his daily bread or a decent job is well aware of this," he said.

Francis also had sharp words for those who might exploit the availability of food for the world's hungry people, calling it "unacceptable."

"If we believe in the principle of the unity of the human family, based on the common paternity of God the Creator, and in the fraternity of human beings, no form of political or economic pressure that exploits the availability of foodstuffs can be considered acceptable," Francis said.

He then moved on to speak about exploitation of the planet, sharing a phrase he said he had learned "from an elderly man many years ago."

"God always forgives -- our misdemeanors, our abuse, God always forgives," Francis said. "Men forgive at times; but the Earth never forgives."

"We must care for our sister the Earth, our Mother Earth, so that she does not respond with destruction," the pontiff said.

"But, above all, no system of discrimination, de facto or de jure, linked to the capacity of access to the market of foodstuffs, must be taken as a model for international efforts that aim to eliminate hunger."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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