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The pastoral Pope

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Old songs occasionally need to be refreshed with updated verses, such as this: "Old McPope had a farm / E-I-E-I-O / And on that farm he had a cow ... a donkey ... chickens ... ostriches ... rabbits ... E-I-E-I-O!"

Who knew that the Pope has a farm?

Fifteen miles outside of Rome, Castel Gandolfo is a 50-acre plot of Paradise on Earth. It features Roman ruins, breathtaking views of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and (of course) a castle. Since the 1500s, this place has been a summer vacation home for Popes — but in the 1930s, the Vatican added bucolic function by planting crops and bringing in a number of farm animals.

And now, Pope Francis, who chose the patron saint of animals as his papal name when he was elected in 2013, has opened the farm to the masses, welcoming us to witness the productive bounty of nature, as well as its beauty. This is no hobby farm, but a sustainable enterprise that delivers a cornucopia of milk, yogurt, veggies, meat, cheese, honey, olive oil and more to the Vatican every day.

For this Pope, however, Castel Gandolfo is also a living metaphor, for it personalizes his message that we humans are "stewards, not masters" of nature, and that "access to food is a basic human right that shouldn't be subject to market speculation."

He's been putting the power of his popeship behind religious and governmental policies that promote food justice, provide proper stewardship of natural resources, and combat the causes of climate change — all a part of his overarching call for a moral ethos that rejects "the pride of dominating, possessing, manipulating, exploiting."

By opening the papal farm to the public, Francis is not only providing a living model of a sustainable food system, but he's also extending his pastoral ideal of humility and openness. This guy is living up to his growing reputation as the "The People's Pope."

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.

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