By Giada Aquilino
Pope Francis calls him a “devout agnostic” because “a noble attitude”, that of “feeling compassion for nature”, guides him. He is a former communist who, when asked if he could see himself converting one day, responds: “never put limits on providence”. Yet, he does not hide the fact of having been completely conquered by the Encyclical Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis.
He is Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food, an international non-profit association which, from 1986, is dedicated to restoring to food its due value, in respect to those who produce it, in harmony with the environment and ecosystems, respecting the traditions and knowledge of those who protect local territories and traditions. Today, the company operates in 150 countries.
Petrini explains his own connection with the Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home” to Vatican News It is a document that “profoundly changes the ecological approach”. “It is not a green encyclical, as some people have reduced it to. It is not an environmental encyclical, but a social one from beginning to end. The idea of an integral ecology that sees strong connections between environmental and human suffering”, he stresses, “is the great and extraordinary reflection” that he feels the Pope has entrusted to he himself and to “the world”.
Petrini is also the creator of the international Terra Madre network which gives voice and visibility to farmers, fishermen, breeders, processors and small producers. A couple years ago, along with Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti, he launched the idea of the Laudato Si’ Communities, operating locally, following the spirit of Pope Francis’s document published in 2015, giving homage to the Poverello of Assisi: communal cells, currently about 60 in number, dedicated to spreading the theme of integral ecology through concrete initiatives, conferences, publications. In short, it is a grass roots initiative promoting a more sustainable reality.
A universal value
Having already authored the Reading Guide that accompanied the edition of Laudato Si’ published by Edizioni San Paolo, Petrini now turns to the idea of integral ecology, specifically thanks to Pope Francis with whom he shares roots in Italy’s Piedmont region. Pope Francis’s family is from Asti, Petrini’s from Bra in the province of Cuneo. It’s not by chance that during the audience of 12 September granted to the Laudato Si’ Communities, Pope Francis amicably greeted Carlo “in my father’s tongue” calling him, “Carlìn”. Since 2013, Petrini has had three dialogues with the Pope, including what the Slow Food founder calls the “extraordinary” experience of participating in the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which took place in the Vatican in October 2019. He speaks about this in his book Terra Futura (Future Earth) published by Giunti and Slow Food.
“In my study of Laudato Si’, I became aware how the document is not directed only to Catholics, but to all the world: it is a document of universal value, because of its content, its approach, its dialogical method, the idea itself of integral ecology. Personally”, he states, “it was a tremendously rich moment, a tremendous opportunity for reflection”.
According to Petrini, Pope Francis’s encyclical “On the Care of Our Common Home “is a foundational document of a new humanism”, understood as “a need that all of us feel that not only the causes of the environmental disasters we are living be addressed in depth, but also unsustainable social situations”.
The founder of Slow Food therefore “questions a certain type of economy, certain values”, the idea of “profiting off of everything” and instead, beginning “to think about common and relational goods”. He explains that it is about “a new sensibility that we must encourage on a global level because otherwise we will not succeed in changing how things are. To change these paradigms”, he continues, “is a difficult undertaking. Therefore, we need a new humanism, a new reflection that considers the signs of the times. Laudato Si’ is precisely the beginning of a new humanism”.
The importance of little things
Faced with today’s challenges, from the environmental, to the economic and social crises, Petrini is trying to go “beyond”. A call emerges from the book Terra Futura “to become personally involved” as community. “The need we feel is that this change is not addressed to politicians who influence the cultural and political world, but is something that concerns everyone. Even the little things can become substantial opportunities for transformation.”
The point, he stresses, is “to make even the humblest people active subjects: each person, beginning with their own everyday lives, can become a protagonist for change. This is the beauty of Laudato Si’: not to underestimate small individual choices. But rather, promote them”.
To overcome barriers
Pope Francis’s invitation is to heal those bonds that we have broken over time, which, instead, used to unite us to the Creator, to other human beings and to the rest of creation.
According to Petrini, the “time has arrived to foster unity of action, a serene and serious dialogue, the mutual involvement of the Catholic and secular world on these topics”.
“From my point of view, as an agnostic, I strongly believe”, he adds, “that this could represent a turning point”. With Laudato Si’, “we stand before an intuition that anticipated the movement of young people on a planetary level (such as Greta Thunberg). It also anticipated responsibility within the international political framework. It is still there today, a witness of how, in order to conquer these challenges, barriers need to be overcome”.
Unjust viruses and profound change
In the conversations included by Petrini in Terra Futura, which took place at the height of Covid-19, the Pope highlights how humanity is “trampled by this virus and by many viruses that we developed”. “Unjust” viruses that Pope Francis frames within “a wild market economy, a violent social injustice, where people die like animals and live, very often, like animals as well”. “It is necessary to decentralize”, the Pope observes, to look “to the peripheries” because that is where “the future is at stake”.
“This pandemic places us in a situation of difficult choices”, says Petrini, echoing the Pope. “Whoever thinks that we will emerge from this situation reconstructing the paradigms and values in place prior to the pandemic, in my opinion, is mistaken and is not welcoming the opportunity for a profound change”, through “more respectful choices regarding the environment, a different economy, an individual and collective responsibility” and a new capacity for dialogue and listening, understood not as moralistic actions but as a “valid method in and of itself”.