Trip to Rome yields practical results and inspiration
James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, recently returned from Rome after a week full of meetings with Vatican officials. The visit has him feeling optimistic about several important CRL initiatives on the horizon.
Ennis, who was in Rome from May 3-10 and was joined by University of St. Thomas professor and CRL board member Dr. Christopher Thompson, said the primary purpose of the visit was to continue the development and implementation of an exciting CRL project: the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader. This initiative aims to develop a comprehensive set of resources for agricultural leaders, communicating the Church’s wisdom concerning food production and stewardship of creation in practical and accessible language.
While in Rome, Ennis and Thompson met with Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This Vatican body had initially given its approval for the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader project in 2013, and Ennis said the meeting last week confirmed that the pontifical council will be actively participating in the initiative. In particular, a representative of the council will be speaking in November at a national symposium in St. Paul, Minn., dedicated to exploring how faith informs food and environmental issues. According to Ennis, the symposium will “answer questions about how we understand ourselves and the natural world, and how we are to respond and act in ways that respect our calling and the goodness in creation.”
Ennis said he is “hopefully optimistic” that Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, will be attending in person. “It’d be great to have him,” said Ennis, pointing out that Cardinal Turkson won the 2013 World Food Prize, and is a leading figure in issues of food security and distribution, not just in the Church, but in the world.
The Ghanan cardinal wasn’t the only redcap the CRL representatives met with while in Rome. They also had a brief, but powerful meeting with Cardinal Raymond Burke, who blessed their efforts and affirmed their work. Ennis said Cardinal Burke, who grew up on a farm in rural Wisconsin, was especially interested in CRL’s mission.
Ennis and Thompson also made progress in the coordination of the international symposium that will follow this year’s national symposium. Ennis said that the most likely date for the international symposium is now September 2015, and will either be held in Rome or Milan. Catholic Rural Life is collaborating with its global-counterpart, the International Catholic Rural Association, on the development of the project.
Finally, Ennis and Thompson met with two representatives of the Vatican Secretary of State, monsignors Antoine Camilleri and Peter Wells. The two monsignors wanted to continue to be engaged and updated on the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader project, and expressed their desire to actively participate in the 2015 international symposium. Monsignor Camilleri, a native of Malta who has worked in Papua New Guinea, Uganda, and Cuba, told CRL that it was vital to affirm the integrity of farming, a vocation which is losing esteem in many parts of the world. And Monsignor Wells, an Oklahoma native, expressed his desire to incorporate energy concerns into discussions about the connection between faith and the environment.
In addition to their input regarding the content of the symposiums, Monsignors Camilleri and Wells also provided CRL with some other invaluable advice. As Pope Francis is currently writing an encyclical on the environment, the monsignors urged CRL to submit its materials on the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader to the Vatican as soon as possible so that the pope might consider including them in his writing. “In this case, I wouldn’t mind being a footnote!” joked Ennis regarding the possibility of CRL being cited in Francis’ encyclical.
All in all, Ennis described the week’s worth of meetings as a perfect combination of achievement and inspiration. “We got some important things done,” he said, “and received the encouragement to continue to do more. To come here, to the heart of the Church, and to be able to meet with Catholic leaders who have a world of responsibilities and receive their input and prayers, it’s a real blessing.”