The Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development and the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO address the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on the occasion of World Fisheries Day, stressing the close link between environmentally sustainable fishing and human dignity of fishery workers.
By Lisa Zengarini
Social sustainability of fishing is closely intertwined with its environmental sustainability, the Holy See said on Tuesday at a high-level event co-organized with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the occasion of World Fisheries Day.
The day is observed annually on 21 November and offers an opportunity to acknowledge, on the one hand, the vital importance of the sea as a source of food for millions of people across the world and, on the other, the role and hardships of fishery workers.
For several years, the Holy See and the FAO have been addressing the working conditions in the fisheries sector together. This year’s event, held at the FAO headquarters in Rome, focused on the role of ports and how they can contribute to securing the social sustainability of the fishing sector.
Keynote speakers included Sr. Alessandra Smerilli, the Secretary of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, who highlighted the close link between social and environmental issues in this vital economic sector.
Intensive industrial fishing ‘a threat’
Recalling the recent Apostolic Exhortation “Laudate Deum” in which Pope Francis again remarked that technological advances are “also capable of threatening the lives of many living beings and our own survival”, the Vatican Secretary noted that intensive industrial fishing is also a threat to the future livelihood of smaller fishers.
“Destructive fishing in the marine ecosystem takes advantage of the work of the fishers, who know better how important the care of the sea is for the future of their livelihood,” she said.
Hence the need “to counter the ‘arrogance of the strong’ that threatens the work of the honest as well as the marine biodiversity of the planet” and listen to the voices of the fishers.
“There is indeed a wisdom of work and life that arises at the margins, from those human and existential peripheries where reality can be better understood, in order that the centres of power can become more clearly aware of the effects and impact of the decisions they make, and realize the need to reimagine the future of our world,” said Sister Smerilli.
She also reaffirmed the Church’s ongoing commitment to stand alongside those who work for human dignity and for the care of the planet.
Holy See always on the side of fishery workers
Her words were echoed by Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO.
In his closing remarks, Msgr. Arellano recalled that the Holy See has always been on the side of fishermen, “especially the less fortunate, seeking that everyone enjoys the fundamental right to decent and dignified work and to enjoy a healthy, clean, and sustainable environment”.
In this regard, Msgr. Arellano praised the FAO for adopting a series of regulations which have helped “create new fishing models that guarantee the quality of the catches, respect for the environment, as well as the fair development of this important sector.”
Ecological conversion to protect people
He recalled that Pope Francis has “unequivocally” stressed the need for an “ecological conversion”, which involves implementing all those measures that the international community has been negotiating “so that the protection of people and the environment is placed at the centre of fishing activity.”
This conversion “requires the implementation of a corporate strategy of social responsibility and constant solidarity that prevails over considerations merely focused on profit,” he said.
“An ethic that respects people will also allow us to improve the wellbeing of those who work in ports, attending to their real needs, which can be better served when humanity is seen as a single family, in which we are all brothers and responsible for each other,” Msgr. Arellano noted.
In this perspective, ports can be seen “as spaces of integration, fraternity, and loyal collaboration, places where truly lived solidarity becomes the path to defeat selfishness and indifference, which cause so many wounds.”
Church’s work for seafarers
Concluding his speech, Msgr. Arellano recalled that the Catholic Church and the Holy See, through Stella Maris, its chaplains, men and women religious, pastoral agents and volunteers, has always striven to provide human and spiritual care to people who work or transit in ports, raising her voce for their well-being and supporting initiatives so that no one is left behind.
Cardinal Czerny’s message for the Day
During the FAO session a message from the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was read out.
Noting that “fishing communities in many parts of the world are suffering”, Cardinal Michael Czerny said that World Fisheries Day is a good opportunity to take up Pope Francis’ appeal for an “integral ecology”.
He, therefore, underscored the need to “safeguard the environment and jobs, the sea and fishing communities” as they face new epochal challenges threatening their profession and their very survival.
“Destructive fishing of the marine ecosystem is to the detriment of the work of fishermen, who know well how important caring for the sea is to give a future to their business”, the message noted.
Cardinal Czerny thanked the fishermen for their precious work, saying that “They are sentinels of delicate balances and possible pioneers of integral ecology”, and noting that their activity is tiring and exhausting but” often not fully recognized at a social level.”