Friday, December 9, 2011

Is it possible to feed seven billion people?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We now have 7 billion people. Will there be enough food for everyone? There are several answers. We have chosen one from the group Agrimonde (see Développement et Civilisations, September 2011), based in France, which studied the nutritional status of six critical regions of the planet. The group of scientists is optimistic, even about when we have 9 billion people. It proposes two ways: to deepen the well-known green revolution of the 60's, and the so-called double green revolution.

The green revolution had the merit of refuting Malthus' thesis, according to which an imbalance would occur between population growth in geometric proportions and food growth in arithmetical proportions, producing a collapse of humanity. It found that with new technologies, greater use of arable agricultural areas and a massive application of toxins -- used earlier in war and now in agriculture -- it was possible to produce much more than the population demanded.

This forecast proved accurate, since there was a significant jump in the food supply, although because of the unfairness of the neoliberal and capitalist system, millions and millions of people still are in a situation of chronic hunger and poverty. It's true that this growth in food has had an extremely high environmental cost: the soil has been poisoned, water has been contaminated, biodiversity has been impoverished, and it has also caused erosion and desertification in many regions, especially in Africa.

Everything got worse when food became a commodity like any other rather than being considered a means of life that, by its nature, should never be subject to market speculation. The table is set with enough food for everyone but the poor have no access to it for lack of monetary resources. They continue starving, and their number grows. The prevailing neoliberal system still supports this model, since it doesn't need to change its logic, cynically tolerating living with millions of hungry people, considered irrelevant to unlimited accumulation.

This solution is not only shortsighted, but false, as well as being cruel and merciless. Those who still argue for it don't take seriously that the Earth is undeniably adrift and that global warming is producing high soil erosion, destruction of crops, and millions of climate migrants. For them, the earth is nothing but a mere means of production, not the Common House, Gaia, which must be cared for.

To tell the truth, those who understand food are the farmers. They produce 70% of everything that humanity consumes. Therefore, they should be heard and included in any step that is taken by the government, by business, and society, because it's about the survival of all.

Given human overpopulation, every piece of land should be taken advantage of but within the scope and limits of its ecosystem; all organic waste should be used or recycled as much as possible, energy should be saved as much as possible, alternative energy should be developed, family farms, small and medium cooperatives should be promoted. And finally, we should move towards a food democracy in which producers and consumers will become aware of their respective responsibilities, with knowledge and information about the actual state of sustainability of the planet, consuming differently, compassionately, frugally and without waste.

Taking such data into account, Agrimonde proposes a double green revolution in the following sense: it agrees to extend the first green revolution with its ecological contradictions, but simultaneously offers a second green revolution. This implies that consumers incorporate everyday habits different from today, more aware of environmental impacts and open to international solidarity so that food is in fact a right accessible to all.

Being optimistic, we can say that this latest proposal is reasonably sustainable. It is being organized embryonically in all parts of the world through family organic agriculture, small and medium enterprises, ecological farming, the Ecovillages and other forms that are more respectful of nature. It's viable and perhaps the mandatory road for humanity in the future.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Witnesses to the Light

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

John 1:5-8,19-28

The Christian faith was born of a surprising encounter a group of men and women had with Jesus. Everything began when these disciples got in touch with Him and experienced "God's salvific warmth." That liberating, tranformative, and humanizing experience they had with Jesus triggered everything.

Their faith awakened amid doubts, uncertainties, and misunderstandings as they followed Him along the roads of Galilee. It was wounded by cowardice and denial when He was executed on the cross. It was reaffirmed and began to spread when they saw Him fully alive after His death.

Therefore, if this experience isn't spread and transmitted from generation to generation over the years, a tragic breakdown occurs in the history of Christianity. Bishops and priests go on preaching the Christian message. Theologians write their theological studies. Pastors administer the sacraments. But, if there aren't any witnesses capable of spreading what was experienced with Jesus at the beginning, the essential is missing, the only thing that can keep faith in Him alive.

We need these witnesses to Jesus in our communities. The figure of John the Baptist, making way for Him amid the Jewish people, inspires us to stimulate this very necessary vocation in the Church today. In the darkness of our time, we need "witnesses to the Light".

Believers who awaken the desire for Jesus and make His message believable. Christians who, through their personal experience, spirit and words, facilitate an encounter with Him. Followers who rescue Him from oblivion and relegation to make Him more visible among us.

Humble witnesses who, in the style of John the Baptist, don't attribute any role to themselves that would focus attention on them, stealing the starring role from Jesus. Followers who don't replace or eclipse Him. Christians who are inspired and sustained by Him, who allow the unmistakable presence of Jesus alive in our midst to be seen through their words and deeds.

Jesus' witnesses don't talk about themselves. Their most important words are always those of Jesus. In fact, the witness doesn't have the floor. He or she is only "a voice" that inspires everyone to "make straight" the way that will lead us to Him. The faith of our communities today is sutained through the experience of those humble and simple witnesses who, in the midst of so much discouragement and bewilderment, shine a light as they help us feel the warmth of Jesus through their lives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Belgian Catholics call for church reform

Belgian Catholics, both lay and ordained, are signing on in droves to a manifesto -- Gelovigen nemen het woord ("Believers Speak Out") -- which was initiated on the First Sunday of Advent by Fr. Johan Dekimpe, a 69-year old priest from Kortrijk, and several of his colleagues. Fr. Dekimpe has told the press that the protestors are acting out of faith because they care for the Catholic Church. "The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers," Fr. Dekimpe said.

The manifesto, which was launched on November 19th with 50 names, now has over 6,000 signatures. It echoes many of the same demands raised in the Austrian "Wir sind Kirche" petition: that laypeople be allowed to lead parishes in the absence of a priest, the holding of Communion services when nobody is available to preside with laypeople being allowed to read the Gospel and preach, allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and expanding the priesthood to include women and married men.

Most of Belgium's bishops have not responded to the manifesto but Msgr. Johan Bonny, the bishop of Antwerp, expressed understanding of what led to it. In an interview with Tertio, he said the priests feel like they're drowning (because of the shortage). He advocated for pastoral teams in parishes and reiterated that the Latin rite Church could be enriched by admitting married men to the priesthood.

English translation of the Belgian manifesto courtesy of National Catholic Reporter

Believers Speak Out

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed Church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland, and many other countries, with all who insist reform on vital for Church reform.

We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g. parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!

We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!

We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.

We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the Word of God!

We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately there are some places where this is happening.

We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!