Farmer saints and justice for the land

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

San Isidro La Cueva procession 2013

Today is the feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer, a Spanish farm laborer who – with his wife Turibia (sometimes known as Santa María de la Cabeza) – is an example of the holiness of workers on the land.

My 24 years in Ames, Iowa, left me with a profound respect for farmers and for all those who work on the land.

In Iowa there is – or, at least, has been – a rural culture of respect for the land and care for others. How many times did I hear of farmers getting together to harvest the crop of a neighbor who had fallen ill.

Yes, many farmers have given in to the desire for gain at all cost. But many still respect the land and some who provide people with wholesome food. Thanks are due to them, including Gary, Ellen, Alice, and others.

But the issues for farmers in the US and here in Central America are not just questions of ecology; they include land tenure and more.

In a 1988 pastoral letter, The Cry for Land, the Guatemalan bishops wrote:

We belong to the earth (Gen 2:7) and it belongs to us because when the Lord created us, he charged us to till it and care for it (Gen 2:15). Thus, work in agriculture appears the quintessential task by which we situate ourselves in the world and before God.

Many scriptural texts express joy at the fruit of our fatiguing labor on the land and our thanksgiving for God’s blessing. When the land bears a crop, we know that God blesses us (Ps 67:7; 85:13)….

The land does not belong to us, but to God, and what each calls property is in reality the portion needed to live. ‘The land and all in it, the world and those who inhabit it, belong to God” (Ps 24:1)….

In Recife, Brazil, [Pope] John Paul II told the farmers: ‘The land is a gift from God, a gift for all human beings, men and women, who are called to be united in a single family and related to one another in a fraternal spirit. Therefore, it is not legitimate, because it is not according to God’s design, to use this gift so that its fruits benefit only a few, excluding others, who form the immense majority.’”

Today, remembering San Isidro Labrador and his wife Santa María de la Cabeza, I pray for all farmers, all workers on the land.

And so I’m heading out in about an hour for Mass in the village of San Isidro La Cueva to celebrate the feast with campesinos and campesinos.

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