Buying locally for Thanksgiving table can have spiritual connections

Kansas farming couple checks soil (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn) check quality of soil in

Kansas farming couple checks soil. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

When people buy locally for their meals, and especially big meals like Thanksgiving, it turns out they can make spiritual connections as well as ecological ones.

An article in the Sooner Catholic, newspaper of  the Oklahoma City Archdiocese, points out that plenty of farmers feel close to God from their work on the land.

Farmer Cindy Greenwood, who runs Greenwood Farms in Big Cabin, Okla., with her husband, Gary, views farming as helping her better understand God.

“We kind of look at it like it all blends together, the land and God and everything,” she said. “We couldn’t do the farming without God and the church.”

She and her husband raise grass-fed cattle, free-range hogs, goats, sheep and chickens.

In the article, writer Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick points out that sustainable farming methods practiced by small farms are in line with the Catholic social principle of care for creation, rather than leading to soil erosion and water pollution. She notes that many of the practices of industrial agriculture —  mechanization, increased reliance on chemical fertilizers and specialization — cut costs in the short term but pose problems long-term for land and consumer health.

She writes that small farms and ranches can sell their products to consumers, rather than to food conglomerates — many of which, she says, under-pay cattle ranchers “to the point they have a negative return” and boycott ranches that try to negotiate a fair price. All of that, she points out, stands in contrast to the dignity of the worker, reinforced in every Catholic social encyclical.

Another farming couple she spoke with — Dean and Melissa Bennett, who run Guadalupe Oaks Farm in Hulbert, Okla., — not only spoke of the spiritual connection of farming but  also the reward of plain hard work.

Melissa said she feels closer to God by being closer to the land.

Her husband had a more practical take.

“When I go to bed at night, man, I’m tuckered out, ” he said, “but there is nothing else I’d rather do.”

Most mentions? Check out our ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ wordcloud

Wordle: The Joy of the GospelVATICAN CITY — “God,” “church,” and “people” get the most mentions in Pope Francis’ first apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”  Click on either image to enlarge.

With this handy word cloud, you can see “life,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “new,” “one,” and “Gospel” are all close behind. In case you’re wondering what “AAS” is, it’s for “Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” which appears often in the footnotes in reference to other official texts. SnipImage

book coverIf you haven’t got your copy of “The Joy of the Gospel” yet, remember you can:

And in case you missed it, yesterday we posted:

Happy reading! And a have blessed Thanksgiving!

A trip down under: Exploring the Vatican necropolis

By Caroline Hroncich 

VATICAN CITY — It was nearly 50 degrees in Vatican City, but you would never guess with the 98 percent humidity. You might ask yourself, is this normal November weather for Rome? Well if you’re a member of the excavations office at St. Peter’s Basilica, this is a daily reality.

Pope Francis holds reliquary containing relics of Apostle St. Peter during Mass in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Pope Francis holds reliquary containing relics of Apostle St. Peter during Mass in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (Nov. 25, 2013)

That was just my experience on Nov. 25 as I stood facing the miniature replica of the original St. Peter’s Basilica, built by Constantine, at the beginning of my excavations tour. I’d heard lots of things about the tour of the Vatican necropolis and the tomb of St. Peter, most of which included “you shouldn’t go if you’re claustrophobic.”

But with the display of St. Peter’s bones by Pope Francis only one day before, I was excited to see what I was going to find beneath the giant halls of St. Peter’s Basilica.

After some explanation by the tour guide, myself and the other nine visitors ventured downward. It was difficult not to feel like an archaeologist as we wandered down the tiny hallways.

The noise of the street slowly melted away to a stony silence. We’d arrived in the necropolis, the city of the dead. The beginning of the tour focused on ancient Roman tombs, each one more impressive than the previous. Gorgeous red paint and intricate frescoes decorated the walls, with beautiful statues of family members, and urns for ashes of deceased family slaves.  At the end of the long hallway of monuments, we reached the only Christian tomb in the necropolis for a young child who’d died at barely two years of age. Decorated with images from Bible verses like Jonah and the whale, this monument was one of the most modest, but perhaps the most powerful. I secretly wondered if the family, who’d sadly buried their young child, knew they laid them to rest so close to St. Peter.

Relics of St. Peter the Apostle pictured on altar before Pope Francis celebrates Mass at St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Relics of St. Peter the Apostle pictured on altar before Pope Francis celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s Square at Vatican (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (Nov. 25, 2013

As we reached the tomb of St. Peter we began to hear haunting singing radiating through the vents from the basilica above. It was incredibly appropriate, considering our proximity to the tomb.

The remains of St. Peter were found in a wall, called the “Graffiti Wall.” Our tour guide explained it is called this because of the amount of writing on the wall, some of which helped archaeologists to identify Peter. Inscriptions such as “Peter is here” and “Peter in peace.”

I got chills when she read the writing on the wall, and started to imagine people, thousands of years before myself, coming to the tomb to offer prayers. It was incredibly humbling. I was the last person in my group to peer through at the bones of the saint, and I looked back two times more before I left the tomb.

Getting the chance to tour the Vatican necropolis was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After my tour, I scanned through the online virtual tour the excavations office provides, but nothing is better than actually being there. I feel incredibly lucky being one of the mere 250 people allowed in each day to experience the necropolis. With only a few weeks left in Rome, and with CNS, I know exactly what I will be giving thanks for around the table this Thursday.

Editor’s note: Caroline Hroncich is a student at Villanova University and she is interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau for the semester.