ROME – As part of continent-wide protests against low food prices and rising costs, a small delegation of farmers on Sunday led a cow named Ercolina II who’s become a symbol of the uprising toward St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s traditional noontime Angelus address, but were turned away before being able to enter.
One of the two farmers who led the cow down the Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue leading to St. Peter’s Square, said that they wanted to get the pope’s blessing. However, there’s no evidence Pope Francis actually saw them, and he made no mention of the protests during his remarks after the prayer.
Convoys of farmers driving their tractors down city streets and around famed landmarks have become a familiar sight in Rome in recent days, part of agricultural protests that have broken out across Europe, including in Spain, Poland, France and Belgium.
In general, the farmers are objecting to falling food prices and rising production costs, especially for energy, as well as EU regulations on climate change which they claim hamper their competitiveness and limit their markets. In recent days, European governments have agreed to pump hundreds of millions of Euros into the agricultural sector in an effort to ease the crisis.
Many farmers also complain of increasing reliance on agricultural imports from outside the EU that aren’t subject to same regulations relative to health and safety, and they’re also pressing for tax cuts on fuel purchases.
However, the uprising is a fairly heterogenous movement, with no clear leader or unified agenda.
On Friday, tractors painted green, red and white, the colors of the Italian flag, drove past Rome’s famed Colosseum as part of the protests. Later in the day, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with a delegation of farmers’ associations, vowing among other things to extend an income tax exemption for agricultural producers that’s been in place since 2017.
Last week, several tractor-driving farmers also made their way to Sanremo in northwestern Italy for the country’s most famous music festival, the finale of which this year drew a 71 percent share of the national television audience.
The famed host of the event, known as Amadeus, read a statement from the farmers in prime time, while television cameras showed images of Ercolina resting outside the main entrance to the concert hall with a sign on her pen reading in Italian, “Without farmers, there’s no food and no future.”
Ercolina II belongs to Cristian Belloni, the owner of a cereal production company, who’s been transporting the cow across Italy as a symbol of the farmers’ cause.
On Sunday, Belloni and a fellow farmer led Ercolina II down the Via della Conciliazione, reaching a police barrier just outside St. Peter’s Square before being turned away by a security agent who informed them that livestock could not enter the square.
As it turns out, Ercolina II is the daughter of another cow named Ercolina, who also featured in a protest in St. Peter’s Square in December 1997. In that case, she was brought by dairy farmers objecting to EU limits on milk production.
On Sunday, Ercolina II wore a photo of her famous mother in St. Peter’s Square around her neck. Although the cow was not able to enter the square, Belloni milked her during the brief demonstration and offered samples to passers-by and pilgrims gathered for the Angelus.
“I brought her to raise consciousness about the problem,” Belloni told reporters. “They want to impose rules on us that are too tight,” he said, referring to the EU.
“We’re here to pray, and to see if that prayer will bring us some advice on the next steps to take,” he said.