On the feast day of Saints Anne and Joachim, Pope Francis authored a letter to the United Nations Food System Summit, which he said “once again highlights how one of our greatest challenges today is to overcome hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in the era of COVID-19.”

Putting his letter in the current context, the Holy Father wrote, “This pandemic has confronted us with the systemic injustices that undermine our unity as a human family. Our poorest brothers and sisters, and the Earth, our Common Home that ‘cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her’ (Laudato Si’, 2), demand radical change.

“We develop new technologies with which we are able to increase the planet’s capacity to bear fruit, yet we continue to exploit nature to the point of barrenness (cf. St. Paul VI, 1971, Octogesima Adveniens, 21), thus expanding not only the deserts of the earth, but also internal Spiritual deserts,” Pope Francis said.

A footnote at the end of the last sentence pointed to Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2005 homily when he began his papacy. In that homily he said, “The human race — every one of us — is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen; He cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to His feet and abandons the glory of Heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the cross. For Him it is not a matter of indifference that so many people are living in the desert. And there are so many kinds of desert. There is the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or the goal of human life. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth’s treasures no longer serve to build God’s garden for all to live in, but they have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction. The Church as a whole and all her Pastors, like Christ, must set out to lead people out of the desert, towards the place of life, towards friendship with the Son of God, towards the One Who gives us life, and life in abundance.” By footnoting this homily, Pope Francis is both reminding us of the sad picture his predecessor painted, but also the hope Pope Benedict offered, if we would leap up, like Christ, and help each other out of these deserts.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of deserts, but not enough people are getting dessert, or even their main meal. Pope Francis wrote, “We produce enough food for all people, but many go without their daily bread. This ‘constitutes a genuine scandal’ (Fratelli Tutti, 189), an offence that violates basic human rights. Therefore, it is everyone’s duty to eliminate this injustice through concrete actions and good practices, and through bold local and international policies.

“From this perspective, the careful and correct transformation of food systems plays an important role, which must be geared towards being able to increase resilience, strengthen local economies, improve nutrition, reduce food waste, provide healthy diets accessible to all, and be environmentally sustainable and respectful of local cultures.” This is a task we all can take to heart (and action).

The Holy Father continued, “If we are to guarantee the fundamental right to an adequate standard of living and meet our commitments to achieve Zero Hunger, it is not enough to produce food. We need a new mindset and a new holistic approach and must plan food systems that protect the Earth and keep the dignity of the human person at the center; that ensure enough food globally and promote decent work locally; and that feed the world today, without compromising the future.” In other words, food is for people, not people for food.

Literally getting to the nitty-gritty, the pontiff said, “It is essential to restore the centrality of the rural sector, on which the fulfillment of many basic human needs depends, and it is urgent that the agricultural sector regain a priority role in the political and economic decision-making process. In this process, small farmers and farming families must be considered as key actors. Their traditional knowledge should not be overlooked or ignored, while their direct participation allows them to better understand their priorities and real needs. The family is an essential component of food systems, because it is in the family that ‘we learn how to enjoy the fruits of the earth without abusing it. We also discover the most effective means for spreading lifestyles respectful of our personal and collective good’ (Message for World Food Day, 2019).”

“We are aware that individual, self-centered and conflicting — but powerful — economic interests prevent us from conceiving of a food system that responds to the values of the Common Good, solidarity and the ‘culture of encounter.’ If we want to maintain a fruitful [one wonders if the pope is using a pun here] multilateralism and a food system based on responsibility, justice, peace and unity of the human family is paramount.

“The crisis we are currently facing is in fact a unique opportunity to engage in authentic, bold and courageous dialogues, addressing the roots of our unjust food system. Throughout this meeting, we have the responsibility to realize the dream of a world where bread, water, medicine and work flow in abundance and reach those most in need first. I pray to God that no one will be left behind, and that the basic needs of every person may be met. May this meeting for the regeneration of food systems set us on the path towards building a peaceful and prosperous society, and sow the seeds of peace that will allow us to walk in true fraternity.” May we pray for this, too, and ask the Holy Spirit to see how we can collaborate better for the nourishment of all, in body and soul.