When the Pope visits the US next year, I hope he can find time to come to Livingston County Illinois. I would be happy to be his tour guide and host. There is a lot to see in the County, but like most of our foreign visitors I think he would be captivated by our farms. Central Illinois has some of the most fertile soil on Earth, and our endless seas of corn and soybeans are a sight to see in the growing season. I could take him to visit some of the farms, and he would meet the farmers who produce an agricultural miracle of productivity year after year. Most of them are members of families who have been tilling the soil here year after year since the Civil War. He could hear from them how much toil and capital it takes each year to make a crop. The Pope could see their high tech combines and tractors, etc, and talk to the men and women who routinely put in 16 hour days, six days a week during harvest time. He could learn just how risky a business farming can be, dependent on weather, and prices around the globe. No doubt the Pope would be served food wherever he went because that is how our farm wives treat guests, so he should leave plenty of room for pies, cakes, fried chicken, watermelons, etc.
After the tour, I think I would hold a meeting where the Pope could address the farmers, and I would also invite to the meeting all those dependent upon the agriculture industry in the county, and that would include seasonal laborers, grain bin owners, truckers, bankers, etc. It would be a very respectful and civil meeting and the Pope could say whatever he wished.
However, I would also ask the Pope about this statement he made this week at a UN conference on nutrition held in Rome.
Nowadays there is much talk of rights, frequently neglecting duties; 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. And while we speak of new rights, the hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognised as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.
I would ask His Holiness what system in the world has fed more people than the free market system. I would further ask the Pope if free market economies have a better record feeding the poor than command economies. I would finally ask the Pope what system, if that is what his frequent criticisms of market economies is leading to, he would wish to substitute. In regard to farmers, no free market tends to mean that farmers become the serfs of the State, and the land of the farmers is
stolen nationalized. I think the farmers I know would have quite a few questions at that point.
After the meeting all of us would sit down and eat, and perhaps I could then mention to the Pope the food banks run throughout the County by churches and private charities and groups, the food directly contributed to the poor by ordinary people like my family, especially at this time of the year, and how many of the farmers do mission work to help teach people overseas new farming techniques. In a small county, in population but not in size, like ours the poor are not an abstraction but people we often know, who frequently have family roots that go back far in the history of the County. The Pope, I hope, would leave Livingston County with fond memories, a bellyful of food to digest and maybe a few things to think about.