Sunday, February 25, 2024

Polish bishops’ leader urges solidarity with protesting farmers

Polish Church leader offers controversial 'humanitarian' help to jailed  politicians

The plight of farmers holding protests across Poland “deserves our attention and solidarity,” the president of the country’s bishops’ conference said Friday.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki said in a Feb. 23 statement that citizens should be informed about the reasons for farmers’ protests, which are taking place across the European Union, a political and economic union of 27 member states, amid declining agricultural incomes and rising production costs. 

“Generally speaking, we are talking about an uncontrolled inflow of food from abroad, with which Polish farmers are unable to compete on price,” the Archbishop of Poznań said.

“On the other hand, they point to the EU’s so-called Green Deal policy, which, according to farmers, aims to reduce agricultural production in the EU or almost completely eliminate it.” 

“Farmers therefore feel threatened — also due to the loans they have taken — with the prospect of bankruptcy and loss of their farms, which are the achievements of the work of entire generations. Their dramatic situation deserves our attention and solidarity.”

Farm vehicles have blocked traffic at almost 200 locations in Poland, including the Ukraine border. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky described the border blockade as a sign of the “daily erosion of solidarity” with Ukraine, which marks the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion Feb. 24. 

Protest organizers say that an influx of cheap Ukrainian grain is undermining their livelihoods. They are seeking a ban on the importation of agricultural products from Ukraine, as well as the lifting of restrictions on the use of fertilizers and pesticides under the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gasses by 2050.

Agriculture is a vital part of Poland’s economy. Almost 50% of Polish land is used for agricultural purposes, compared to around 40% of U.S. land.

Gądecki, whose second and final term as bishops’ conference president expires soon, said that farmers should not be seen as just one professional group among many. 

He quoted a 2015 address to Italian farmers, in which Pope Francis said: “The labor of those who cultivate the earth, generously dedicating time and energy to it, appears as a genuine vocation. It deserves to be recognized and appropriately appreciated, also in concrete economic policies.”

Gądecki said: “Bread participates, in a sense, in the sacredness of human life, and therefore it cannot be treated only as a commodity. What is needed is access to healthy food, produced in appropriate conditions, and at the same time access provided in a stable manner, also in times of international crises.” 

“Meanwhile, although the grain comes from Ukraine, it is largely not produced by Ukrainian individual farmers, but owned by Western consortiums that use chemicals in industrial production that are unacceptable in the European Union.”

He added: “I am aware that with the development of technology, the way food is produced and the way agriculture functions is changing. However, the fact remains that we need food every day. The fact that we cannot ignore the tragedy of farmers to whom we owe so much does not change.”

Gądecki joins a growing number of European bishops who have expressed solidarity with protesting farmers.

Several French bishops expressed support for farmers who encircled Paris at the end of January in protest at low incomes, intensive regulation, and what they believe is unfair competition from other countries.

Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes met with protesters blocking roads Jan. 23. In a message issued a day later, he underlined his “full support for the farmers of the diocese” in southwestern France.

He urged Catholics to show their solidarity “in a sincere and determined way, seeking to understand what drives farmers to express themselves as they do, to know the reality of their daily lives, to support their work by allowing it to be fairly remunerated.”

The five bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Montpellier, also in southwestern France, told farmers in a Jan. 25 message that they shared their concerns.

“Faced with the increasing costs that are crushing you, the ever more restrictive standards that are imposed on you, the permanent controls, the excessive administrative procedures, you suffer to the point of crying out in despair,” they wrote.

The four bishops of Brittany, in northwestern France, said Jan. 15 that they understood farmers’ “stress and exasperation in the face of the ever-increasing number of controls imposed on you, and the administrative complexity that takes you away from your actual job.”

“We share your sadness at the suicide of your colleagues,” they wrote.

French farmers ultimately called off a planned “siege” of Paris after securing concessions from the government.

In early February, Spanish bishops offered their support to farmers, who have held protests across the country against both national and EU agriculture policies, and clashed this week with police in the capital, Madrid.

Archbishop Jesús Sanz Montes of Oviedo, northern Spain, described farmers in a Feb. 6 social media post as honest and hard-working people “who express their violated rights throughout Europe.”

“We hope for less futile ideology and more useful solidarity for them,” he wrote.

On the same day, Bishop Fernando Valera Sánchez of Zamora, western Spain, said that the Church wanted “to raise its voice in favor of those who work tirelessly to feed our communities.”

“Public authorities should make it possible for rural men and women to continue developing their activity for the benefit of the whole community and ensure their generational succession,” he wrote. 

Bishop José Luis Retana Gozalo of Salamanca, northwestern Spain, said in a Feb. 12 Lenten pastoral letter that “we cannot be insensitive to their just demands, expressed in a civil manner.”

Italian farmers were invited to attend Pope Francis’ Feb. 18 Angelus address. They brought a cow called Ercolina II, which has become a symbol of the protest movement.