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Cardinal Turkson: Agriculture is a vocation

Cardinal Turkson: Agriculture is a vocation

(Vatican Radio) A scheduled public talk by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was delivered Wednesday evening by Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J., as part of the “Faith, Food, and the Environment symposium”, which began on Wednesday and concludes Friday at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Cardinal Turkson was asked by Pope Francis to help the Church focus its attention on the needs of West Africa as it suffers through the latest outbreaks of Ebola, and was therefore not able to keep the appointment.


The full text of the remarks are below


Symposium on Faith, Food and Environment

St. Paul, Minnesota

5 November 2014


Faith and the Call for a Human Ecology: The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader


On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of its President Cardinal Peter Turkson[1], I thank you for the very kind invitation to the Council to participate in the Symposium on Faith, Food, and the Environment here at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul.[2] Thank you for the warm welcome

I. Introductory Remarks

Cardinal Turkson is very grateful for your invitation. If he were not required by the Vatican to help devise a response to the Ebola crisis, he would be here today where he has found exceptional collaborators at the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought. He would make special mention of the leadership of Professor Michael Naughton who has led the development of our very successful booklet on the “Vocation of the Business Leader”. This symposium is very much an outgrowth and applications of the insights in that work.

Two other touchstones are worth mentioning. In 2011, our Council issued a small booklet entitled Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority. In the midst of the major economic and financial system problems that continue to reverberate, this was an attempt to bring human dignity and the common good to the attention of world leaders who were reacting to the crisis. The production and distribution of agricultural goods and the behaviour of financial markets in relation to foodstuffs are very much part of this crisis, and perhaps this symposium will have good thoughts to add in their regard.

Just last week, Cardinal Turkson hosted a major three-day meeting of some 150 of the world’s marginalized people, representatives of grassroots movements concerned with housing, land and work. These include peasants who lose their land and livelihood to agribusiness, and agricultural workers trapped in poverty. On Tuesday morning (28 Oct), Pope Francis participated for several hours in joyful and lively encounter with them in the Old Synod Hall. First he met selected representatives, then he delivered an inspiring speech that has been described as a ‘mini-social encyclical’.[3] Several chosen spokespeople shared, including a man who had dedicated years to building up a cooperative, but then one of his colleagues “sold out to the usual interests who’re always in charge”.

Your topic is very much on the mind of the Pope; as has been announced, he plans to issue an encyclical early next year on creation, ecology and the environment. In fact, he assured his listeners last week, “Your concerns will be present in it.”

In my remarks, I wish to expound on the idea of vocation, then on agriculture as vocation. Following this, I will give you a glimpse of the origins and main ideas of the book on Vocation of the Business Leader and suggest some questions that link it to your subject. I will end with some reflections on the phrase “human ecology.”

II. Why “Vocation”?

Vocation connotes more than work, more than interest and aspiration. It means “calling”, and the Bible has God frequently calling individuals directly or through dreams, angelic messengers or other intermediaries. For instance, David had a job as a shepherd; God called him to do something else. Jonah ignored God’s call because he had no interest in lecturing the people of Nineveh so God sent a whale to deliver him. And when Jesus called Simon/Peter and Andrew, telling them “I will make you fishers of men”, they followed Jesus but they continued to be fishermen too; what distinguished their new calling or vocation was its larger perspective.

For our purposes in this symposium, “vocation” means a calling which comes from God our Creator. Creation and everything created is purposely willed by God. It follows that the meaning of everything that exists is determined with reference to God. Accordingly, the sense and value of human activity are not fully discovered without reference to the God of creation. All human activity that affects man, his existence and his world, must be related to God and be seen as a contribution to and a continuation of God’s work of creation by man, who is created in the image and likeness of God.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) explains vocation as the calling to be completely authentic as individual persons and as social beings, based on our status as made in God’s image and relating to God (Gen 1:26-7). Vocation is the acknowledgement of and engagement in the essence of our nature as humans. Here are a few relevant passages:

Compendium § 19: the vocation of every person is to collaborate in “God’s plan of love in history”;

Compendium § 34: “The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love is at the same time the revelation of the vocation of the human person to love. This revelation sheds light on every aspect of the personal dignity and freedom of men and women, and on the depths of their social nature.”

Compendium § 36: “only in relationship with God can men and women discover and fulfil the authentic and complete meaning of their personal and social lives.”

Compendium § 101 (citing Laborem Exercens) says that “work has all the dignity of being a context in which the person’s natural and supernatural vocation must find fulfilment”

Pope Francis focuses on vocation in his Apostolic Exhortation. Besides speaking of religious life, Evangelii Gaudium says that “…the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel…” (201). Then he singles out the worlds of politics (205) and business (203). As he wrote subsequently to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

“Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life” (Ev. Gaudium, 203). Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all.[4]

Business belongs to such human activity; and entrepreneurs should see themselves as called by God to exercise their necessary and important skills and activities in order to assist in continuing God’s work of creation. Properly understood, business leadership is indeed a calling, a vocation, a very noble role. The Church takes great joy in supporting and helping business people to respond appropriately to your vocation and to find the place of your activities in God’s design for man and his world.

III. A Vocation to Agriculture?

Agriculture is a constant backdrop in the Bible. The language of Jesus is full of illustrations from agriculture: tending flocks, planting, harvesting, managing agriculture with granaries and with payments to workers. Jesus assumes that his listeners understand and respect healthy agriculture; this allows him to make comparisons to agriculture in his parables. For instance, in the parable of the good seed, how seed reacts to different types of ground helps him to teach what happens when people react in different ways to the word of God (Mk 4).

This enriches our thinking as we turn to agriculture as a vocation. From the very beginning, the Creator asks us to “till” the earth and to “keep it” (Gn 2:15). It is part of our assignment as human beings. It cannot be ‘just a job’ if we treat it as part of “God’s plan of love in history” (CST 19).

Putting this sense of vocation positively (based on Compendium §§ 19 and 36), allow me to suggest that:

Agriculture is a vocation when we carry it out within God’s plan of love in history, and when it is the occasion for us to discover and fulfil the authentic and complete meaning of our personal and social lives.

How can we elaborate on this grand vision of agriculture as vocation?

I will try to do so with Vocation of a Business Leader as a model.

III. Origins and Use of Vocation of a Business Leader

How did it happen, two and a half years ago, that the Church issued a handbook on the Vocation of a Business Leader? The stimulus was the encyclical Caritas in Veritate of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace collaborated in two very interesting conferences exploring the implications of Caritas in Veritate in the realm of business. These took place in Los Angeles in late 2010 and in Rome in early 2011. The outcome was a decision to write a handbook or vademecum for business men and women that translates specific principles of Catholic Social Teaching into practical ethical guidelines for making business decisions. The work was begun by an international group of some fifteen business people, managers, researchers and educators. The coordinator was Prof. Michael Naughton (University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota), and the working-group included the then President of the International Christian Union of Business Executives (UNIAPAC), M. Pierre Lecocq. I wish to thank them heartily, and many others who have worked on the document and its different language versions, published in collaboration with various partner organizations. The handbook appeared in its first editions, French and English, in early 2012.

The handbook is being used in a growing list of languages (now 15 completed and at least 2 underway).[5] It is being used in university courses, in discussion groups of business people, to stimulate research, in an ongoing blog,[6] and more.

IV. Vocation of a Business Leader: Outline and Key Ideas


The “logic of gift” is the keystone of voation of the business leader (VBL). It is articulated in Caritas in Veritate, where Benedict XVI observed that:

Every Christian is called to practise charity in truth in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the public sphere.[7]

The principle of generosity / gratuitousness and the logic of gift must find their place within normal economic activity and commercial relationships.[8]

Our very lives and the entire world we inhabit are gifts freely given by God – and this gift should inform how we act in our business endeavours. It humanizes and civilizes business, where businesspeople see themselves as stewards rather than owners, their wealth as common rather than just private goods, and their employees as persons rather than only as instruments of production.

The Vocation handbook points to these eternal implications at the very beginning: “In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked’ (Lk 12:48). Businesspeople have been given great resources and the Lord asks them to do great things. This is their vocation.”


This gifted character of business carries social implications. Business leaders have significant means to undertake something, and with this comes a corresponding responsibility. The Vocation text sees business not in terms of a legal minimalism – “don’t cheat, lie or deceive” – but rather as a vocation that makes “an irreplaceable contribution to the material and even the spiritual well-being of humankind.” It is about a meaningful life that opens the businessperson to God’s will, and not simply their own will, in the day-to-day decisions of ordinary life, which gives us the capacity to share goods in common and build community.

This vision of business is grounded in CST. At its centre is the fundamental dignity of all human beings because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This expresses God’s infinite love for us. Faith denies that a loving God would wish untruth, bondage, injustice and strife for us. Rather, based on divine love and human dignity, our faith compels us to embrace four fundamental values: truth, freedom, justice and peace. Because they are grounded in our divinely and lovingly created human nature, we have an absolutely firm response when such values are challenged or denied.

Catholic Social Doctrine enunciates many other principles, some of which are especially pertinent to the world of business. Service to the common good comes before serving narrower interests. The goods or resources of the world have a universal destiny; creation is a gift to the whole of humanity, not just a part. We are called to act in solidarity with those who lack access to these goods – with the large portion of humanity who suffer in the midst of plenty.

This vision of business is not without significant tensions and is not easy to execute in today’s world. Business leaders experience great pressures; excessive competition, the demands for efficiency and profitability. Many external obstacles can also affect a business leader’s decisions, such as the absence of the rule of law or regulations, corruption, tendencies towards greed, or poor stewardship of resources. Chief among the obstacles at a personal level is a divided life which is one of the more serious errors of our age. The split between religious faith and day-to-day business practice can lead to imbalances and misplaced devotion to economic success.


These challenges demand more just and human structures, regulations, policies and practices; and they demand virtues from business leaders – those habits of work that make business people and the world better. For the business leader, one of the most important virtues is practical wisdom – how to be wise in practical affairs. Our handbook is structured on a framework that shows how a prudential leader can encounter the world of business by seeing the situation clearly, judging with principles that foster the integral development of people, and acting in a way which implements these principles in light of one’s unique circumstances. I will explain these three stages one by one, though it is clear that seeing, judging, and acting are deeply interconnected

When we attempt to see the world of business thoughtfully, thoroughly and fairly, we notice both good and evil factors at work. The handbook mentions four major “signs of the times” in particular, four significant factors facing leaders today.

Globalisation has brought efficiency, mobility and extraordinary new opportunities to businesses, but the drawbacks include greater inequality, economic dislocation, cultural steam-rolling, and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital flows.

Communications technology has enabled connectivity, new solutions and products, and lower costs, but its amazing velocity also brings information overload and rushed decision-making.

The rise of the financial sector has created ways to leverage capital to make it more productive, yet it has also intensified tendencies to commoditise all business relationships and reduce them to one value – price – whether that is the monetary value of the firm, the price of a product, or the cost of labour; all of which emphasise wealth maximisation and short-term gains at the expense of working for the common good.

Cultural changes in our era have led to increased individualism, more family breakdowns, and utilitarian preoccupations with oneself and “what is good for me”. As a result we might have more private goods but are lacking significantly in common goods. Business leaders increasingly focus on maximising wealth, employees develop attitudes of entitlement, and consumers demand instant gratification at the lowest possible price. As values have become relative and rights more important than duties, the goal of serving the common good is often lost.

Next, the handbook organizes insights into the judging required in business in three perspectives: good goods, good work, and good wealth.

The first objective is to produce Good Goods. Businesses attend to the needs of the world by producing goods that are truly good and services that truly serve. They make solidarity with the poor a facet of their service to the common good by being alert for opportunities to serve otherwise deprived and underserved populations and people in significant need.

Second, businesses should provide Good Work. By organizing good and productive work, businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work. Businesses are communities, not mere commodities! Further, they contribute to the full human development of employees by applying the principle of subsidiarity; that is, by providing them with opportunities to exercise appropriate authority as they contribute to the mission of the organisation. They also allow workers to influence the overall direction of the business and accept their right to participate in intermediary bodies such as unions.

The third objective is Good Wealth. By being good stewards of the resources given to them, businesses create sustainable wealth through efficient and product processes producing healthy profits. But creating wealth in a business is insufficient without the wider context of stewardship for the natural and cultural environment, and just distribution to all stakeholders who have made the wealth possible: employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the larger community.

Turning to the third step, acting, the handbook urges business leaders to put aspiration into practice, word into deed, by following their vocation and letting themselves be motivated by much more than financial success or formed only by the “logic of the market.” What this kind of action calls for is that business leaders receive and accept what God has done for them and to have this gifted life inform and order the way they give and enter into communion with others in business. When businesspeople integrate prayer, the Sabbath, the scriptures, the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and ethical social principles into their life and work, they can overcome the “divided life” and receive the grace to foster the integral development of all business stakeholders. It is precisely this life of faith that can strengthen and embolden business leaders to respond to the world’s challenges not with fear or cynicism, but with the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

As very practical, well-aimed aids to action, the handbook offers two checklists. The first is a set of “Six Practical Principles for Business” that summarise the discussion of good goods, good work and good wealth. The second is “A Discernment Checklist for the business Leader” – nearly three dozen questions to help business leaders to deeply examine their own lives and the behaviour of their organizations in light of the Catholic social principles here presented. These three questions summarize the latter checklist:

As a Christian business leader, am I promoting human dignity and the common good in my sphere of influence ?

Am I supporting the culture of life; justice; international regulations; transparency; civic, environmental, and labour standards; and the fight against corruption?

Am I promoting the integral development of the person in my workplace?

V. Application to Agriculture

Of course, your interests are not business in general but the business of agriculture. Seeing how the Vocation book explores business leadership in general, I believe you will be able to apply it to the particular world of food production and marketing.

What are the unique features of the vocation of a leader in agriculture? I cannot give you answers, but I suggest that you look to the Vocation book for help in asking the right questions.

Thinking about the logic of gift, it is abundantly clear that agricultural leaders exercise influence over immense resources – the very land that feeds us and houses us, the water, the nutritional value of the soil. Is it legitimate to worry that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little? Can GMOs and chemical fertilizers make their contribution without inhibiting the preservation and continued spontaneous growth of God’s creation, the original gift to all?

How do agricultural leaders react to the central tenets of CST? For instance, is common good subordinated to ‘ability to pay’? Does subsidiarity influence the willingness of powerful corporations to allow and even assist other farming structures – family farming in some regions, subsistence farming in others – to flourish alongside agribusiness?

When it comes to seeing, we can ask about the influence of globalization and financialization on agricultural planning – do those plans reflect the goal of adequate nutrition everywhere, or do financial considerations push thoughts of food aside? One of the difficult cases is the reduction of capacity for local food production so as to grow ethanol-producing crops for distant customers – a clear case of the impact of living in a global economy.

When agricultural leaders judge about “good goods”, do they think about ‘what sells’ or do they focus on truly feeding a hungry world while stewarding the environment in a responsible and prudent manner? Do the production and distribution decisions address the rampant problems of malnutrition? And are long-term risks such as the growth of resistance to herbicides and pesticides included in how they assess technological innovations?

In the same way, thinking about “good work”, are migrant workers treated with human dignity and with fairness? Do policies and subsidies favour some forms of agricultural business over others without a compelling rationale in terms of human and environmental benefit?

The heading of “good wealth” is especially pertinent. Do agricultural leaders see themselves as stewards of the earth? Do global markets accept the food sovereignty of every country and region? Is wealth generated by agricultural business distributed and used to preserve nature and provide food for future generations?

Finally, I have one suggestion with regard to the acting of agricultural leaders. Before you sign off on an order, ask “Is this what is best for humanity and for the environment?” And realize that “best” is not a synonym of “most”. The most fertilizer may not be what is best. The most profit may not be what is best, any more than eating the most is best for one’s health! We must always try to do what is optimal. This may be neither ‘the minimum’ nor ‘the maximum’; for instance, ‘maximum yield’ in crops and in investments is a worthy objective only if it is an optimal strategy for human and environmental outcomes.

VI. Faith and the Call for a Human Ecology

So far I have not mentioned “human ecology”. Let me close with some thoughts on this phrase.

Our human bond with the earth is absolutely foundational. The second Genesis account, “Adam” comes from adamah or ground, earth. So too, “human” is grounded in humus, soil. Humanity was not created ex nihilo but ex adamah and humus. Without earth, there is no human being.

Moreover, our human story begins in a garden, not the wilds. And it involves more than the inexorable laws of nature. Humanity is the factor that opens the earth up to new possibilities and realizations. Are they new harmonies or new imbalances? The outcome depends on our actions.

When we care for the earth or misuse it, we care for ourselves or abuse ourselves. Because we are earth, and we sent forth as gardeners: our nature is to consciously work the soil, work on and within the ground from which God made us.

So there is a duality in the idea of “human ecology”. On the one hand, we know ourselves as God’s stewards of the earth. When we exercise stewardship or caring in the style of God, when we act in the name of God the Creator and in his image, we must adopt his style of love and communion. Let us seek beauty and harmony in carrying out this role. We cannot divorce ourselves from our instruments, so wonderfully fashioned by science and commerce. If machines and chemicals and investment strategies are hurting nature, we cannot wash our hands – it is we who introduced them into the garden.

Simultaneously, protecting creation means protecting something of which every human is a part. We are all creatures, we are nature, and we share the destiny of created nature. When we care for the environment, we care for life in general and thus for human life. And when our interventions in nature lead to changes in nature, these changes do not occur in some inert matter distant from us. We are changing ourselves too. The authentic wholeness, the integral self of every woman and man, is bound up in whatever we do in our natural environment.

So here’s the connection with human ecology. The way men and women treat the environment reflects how we think about and treat ourselves – and vice versa. Respect for human ecology lays down the limits and perspectives of development. The environment cannot be considered more important than humanity nor as just a warehouse of raw materials. Not to recognize and not to respect our full, integral reality is to poison the human environment at the same time as we poison the air and the water too.

Our faith calls us to this understanding of ourselves and our place in nature. For too long, we have allowed the colossal power of science, engineering and commerce to separate us from nature and treat it instrumentally. Thank you for listening to the call of faith. With prayer, with loving concern for all humanity and with the best that science and commerce have to offer, let us roll up our sleeves and return to the garden.

[1] Due to the Ebola crisis, Cardinal Turkson felt obliged to cancel his trip to the U.S.A. in favor of meetings at the Vatican to assess the situation and develop a strategic action plan to guide the Holy See’s response. Speaking in his place was Dr. Michael Czerny S.J.

[2] Hosted by the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Catholic Rural Life, Farmers Union, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota Catholic Conference, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

[3] http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/speeches/2014/october/document…

[4] Pope Francis, Message to the World Economic Forum, Davos-Klosters, 17 January 2014.

[5] As of November 2014: Arabic, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Ukrainian (and next year Chinese and Thai)

[6] William Bowman, Catholic CEO: How Church teachings can help us build better organizations, http://www.catholicceo.net/catholic-ceo-blog

[7] Cf. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, § 7.

[8] Cf. Caritas in Veritate, § 36.

(from Vatican Radio)

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