Speech to Italian Farmers
We always experience particular pleasure in welcoming representatives of occupations that make up the economic and social life of a people. We have added satisfaction on this occasion in greeting you, beloved sons, delegates of a vast National Confederation, comprised of a large number of owner-operator farmers. The lands that you cultivate are the "sweet fields," "dulcia arva", so dear to the gentle Vergil (Eclogue, 1, 3). They are the lands of Italy, whose perennial and life-giving healthfulness, whose fertile fields, sunny hills, and shadowy woods, whose generous vines and olive trees, whose sleek flocks were exalted by Pliny (Nat. Hist. 1. III, 5, n. 41). "O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint, agricolas!" (Verg., Georg. II, 458-459). "O more than happy husbandmen," exclaimed the great poet of the country, "did they but know their blessings!" Hence We could not let this occasion pass without speaking some word of encouragement and exhortation, especially since we are all well aware how much the moral recovery of our whole people depends on a class of farmers socially sound and religiously firm.
Contact with Nature
More than anyone else, you live in continual contact with nature. It is actual contact, since your lives are lived in places still remote from the excesses of an artificial civilization. Under the sun of the Heavenly Father your lives are dedicated to bringing forth from the depths of the earth the abundant riches which His hand has hidden there for you. Your contact with Mother Earth has also a deep social significance, because your families are not merely consumer-communities but also and especially producer-communities.
Rooted in the Family
Your lives are rooted in the familyuniversally, deeply, and completely; consequently, they conform very closely to nature. In this fact lies your economic strength and your ability to withstand adversity in critical times. Your being so strongly rooted in the family constitutes the importance of your contribution to the correct development of the private and public order of society. You are called upon for this reason to perform an indispensable function as source and defense of a stainless moral and religious life. For the land is a kind of nursery which supplies men, sound in soul and body, for all occupations, for the Church, and for the State.
So much the more, then, must great care be taken to preserve for the nation the essential elements of what might be called genuine rural culture. We must preserve the qualities of industriousness, simple and honest living, respect for authority, especially for parental authority, love of country, and loyalty to traditions which have proved a source of good throughout the centuries. We must preserve readiness to aid one another within the family circle and amongst families, from home to home. All of these qualities we must have animated with a true religious spirit, for without such a spirit these very virtues tend to degenerate into unbridled greed for profit. May the fear of God and faith in God, a faith which finds daily expression in prayers recited together by the whole family, sustain and guide the life of the workers of the fields. Let the Church remain the heart of the village, the shrine of the people. Sunday after Sunday, may it gather the faithful, true to the sacred traditions of their ancestors. There may they lift their minds above material things to the praise and service of God and to supplication for the strength to think and live in a truly Christian manner during the coming week.
Farming has essentially a family character and is, therefore, very important to the social and economic prosperity of the whole people. In consequence, the tiller of the soil has a special right to a proper reward from his labor. During the last century and even at the present time there have been discouraging examples of attempts to sacrifice farming to other ends. If one is looking for the highest and most rapidly increasing national economy or for the cheapest possible provisioning of the nation with farm products, there will be, in either case, a temptation to sacrifice the farming enterprise.
Duties to Soil and Neighbor
It devolves upon you, therefore, to demonstrate that on account of its family character farming does not exclude the advantages of other kinds of business, and, furthermore, that it avoids their evils. Be adaptable, attentive, and active stewards of your native soil, which is to be used but never exploited. Let it be seen that you are thinking, thrifty men, open to progress, men who courageously employ your own and others' capital to help and supplement your labor, provided that such expenditure does not endanger the future of your families. Show that you are honest in your sales, that you are not greedily shrewd at the expense of the public, and that you are well-disposed buyers in your country's markets.
We know well how often it is possible to fall short of this ideal. Notwithstanding uprightness of intention and dignity of conduct upon which many farmers may pride themselves, it is none the less true that the present day demands great firmness of principle and strength of will. You must prefer to earn a living in the sweat of your brow rather than succumb to the diabolical temptation of easy gain, which would take advantage of the dire need of a neighbor.
Education for Rural Life
Another exhibition of selfishness frequently manifests itself through the fault of parents who put their children to work too early in life to the neglect of their spiritual formation, their education, their scholastic instruction, and their special occupational training. There is no more mistaken idea than the notion that the man who tills the soil does not need a serious and adequate education to enable him to perform the varied duties of the season in timely fashion.
Sin, the Land, and Labor
Sin did, in truth, render labor in the fields burdensome, but it was not sin that introduced such labor into the world. Before there was any sin, "God gave man the earth for his cultivation as the most beautiful and honorable occupation in the natural order." In the wake of the original sin of our first parents, all the actual sins of humanity have caused the curse to weigh upon the earth with increasing heaviness. The soil has suffered successive scourges of every kindfloods, earthquakes, pestilence, devastating wars, and land mines. In some places it has become sterile, barren, and unwholesome, and has refused to yield to man its hidden treasures. The earth is a huge wounded creature; she is ill. Bending over her, not as a slave over the clod, but as the physician over a prostrate sufferer, the tiller lovingly showers on her his care. But love, for all that it is so necessary, is not enough. To know nature, to know, so to speak, the temperament of one's own piece of land, sometimes so different from that of the very next plot; to be able to discover the germs that spoil it, the rodents that would burrow beneath it, the worms that would eat its fruits, the weeds that would infest its crops; to determine what elements it lacks and to choose the successive plantings that will enrich it even while it reststhese and so many other things require wide and varied knowledge and information.
Besides all this, and quite apart from the rehabilitation made necessary by the war, in many places the land demands that careful and well-planned preliminary measures be taken before any reform can be accomplished in the matter of land ownership and farm contracts. Without such measures, improvised reform, as history and experience teach us, would develop into sheer demagoguery. Therefore, far from being beneficial, it would be both useless and dangerous, particularly today when humanity must still fear for its daily bread. Quite often in times past, the incoherent, deceptive vaunting of unprincipled orators has made rural populations the unwitting victims of exploitation and slaves to a domination from which they would have instinctively shrunk.
City or Country
Because the farmer's life is so close to nature and based so substantially upon the family, certain prevalent types of injustice show up the more flagrantly in relation to that life. Such injustice finds its most evident expression in the conflict between city and country. What is the reason for this conflict, which, unfortunately, is especially characteristic of our own time?
Modern cities, with their constant growth and great concentration of inhabitants, are the typical product of the control wielded over economic life and the very life of man by the interests of large capital. As Our glorious Predecessor, Pius XI, has so effectively shown in his Encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, it happens too often that human needs do not, in accordance with their natural and objective importance, rule economic life and the use of capital. On the contrary, capital and its desire for gain determine what the needs of man should be and to what extent they are to be satisfied. Therefore, it is not human labor in the service of the common welfare that attracts capital to it and presses it into its service. Rather, capital tosses labor and man himself here and there like a ball in a game. If the inhabitant of the city suffers from this unnatural state of affairs, so much the more is it contrary to the very essence of the farmer's life. Notwithstanding all his difficulties, the tiller of the soil still represents the natural order of things willed by God. The farmer knows that man, by his labor, is to control material things; that material things are not to control man.
The Flight to the City
This, then, is the deep-seated cause of the modern conflict between city and country; each viewpoint produces altogether different men. The difference of viewpoints becomes all the more pronounced the more capital, having abdicated its noble mission to promote the good of all groups in society, penetrates the farmer's world or otherwise involves it in its evils. It glitters its gold and a life of pleasure before the dazzled eyes of the farm-worker to lure him from his land to the city where he may squander his hard-won savings. The city usually holds nothing for him but disillusionment; often he loses his health, his strength, his happiness, his honor, and his very soul there.
After the land has been so abandoned, capital hastens to make it its own; the land then becomes no longer the object of love but of cold exploitation. Generous nurse of the city as well as of the country; it is made to produce only for speculationwhile the people suffer hunger; while the farmer, burdening himself with debts, slowly approaches ruin; while the national economy becomes exhausted from paying high prices for the provisions it is forced to import from abroad. This perversion of private rural property is seriously harmful. The new ownership has no love or concern for the plot that so many generations had lovingly tilled, and is heartless towards the families who till it and dwell upon it now. Private ownership, even though it sometimes leads to exploitation, is not, however, the cause of this perversion. Even in those instances where the State completely arrogates capital and the means of production to itself, industrial interests and foreign trade, characteristic of the city, have the upper hand. The real tiller of the soil then suffers even more. In any case, the fundamental truth consistently maintained by the social teaching of the Church is violated. The Church teaches that the whole economy of the people is organic and that all the productive capacities of national territory should be developed in healthy proportion. The conflict between country and city would never have become so great if this fundamental truth had been observed.
To Each His Share
You farmers certainly do not desire any such conflict; you want every part of the national economy to have its share; however, you also want to keep your share. Therefore, you must have the help of sensible political planning and sound legislation. But your principal help must came from yourselves, from your cooperative unions, especially from your credit unions. Perhaps, then, the recovery of the whole economy may come from the field of agriculture.
A Community of Labor
And finally a word about labor. You tillers of the soil form within your families a community of labor. You and your fellow-members and associates also form another community of labor. Finally, you desire to form with all the other occupational groups a great community of labor. This is in keeping with what has been ordained by God and nature. This is the true Catholic concept of labor. Work unites all men in common service to the needs of the people and in a unified effort towards perfection of self in honor of the Creator and Redeemer. In any case, remain firm in regarding your labor from the point of view of its essential value. You and your families are contributing to the public welfare; such labor protects your fundamental right to an income sufficient to maintain you in accordance with your dignity and cultural needs as men. It implies also your recognition of the necessity of uniting with all other occupational groups who labor for the various needs of society. Your labor therefore, embodies your support of the principles of social peace.
A Parting Blessing
With all Our heart, dear sons, We invoke heaven's choicest blessings on you and on your families. The Church has always blessed you in a particular manner, and in many ways has brought your working year into her liturgical year. We invoke these blessings upon the work of your hands, from which the holy altar of God receives the bread and wine. May the Lord give you, in the words of Holy Scripture, "the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, abundance of corn and wine!" (Gen., XXVII:28) May your lands, like the fertile Etruscan fields between Fiesole and Arezzo, so greatly admired by Livy, "be rich in grain and cattle and an abundance of all things," "frumenti ac pecoris et omnium copia rerum opulenti" (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 1. XXII, cap. 3). With these sentiments and these wishes We impart to you and to all those dear to you Our paternal Apostolic Blessing.
Pope Leo XIII Speaks Fifty-Five Years Earlier
Values of Land Ownership
". . . If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the greater abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them, nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self-evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born; for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life . . ."
Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, May 15, 1891.
This item 3792 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org