Interview with the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who explains what action the Catholic Church has taken in the field of development
Luciano Zanardini Taken from Vatican Insider
“Christianity changes a person’s heart. It is not a mere charity.” In this interview, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, explains the actions the Catholic Church has taken to promote development. The Ghanaian cardinal was one of the cardinals tipped to be Pope in the last Conclave. He wasn’t in the end; but it looks like he has got his plate full as his dicastery handles the areas Francis has cited as priorities: the poor, war and peace and creation.
The intuition John XXIII had in the Pacem in Terris, to speak about peace rather than the absence of war, is still relevant today, but there are clearly also many hotspots for conflict in the world. What is your dicastery’s main task?
John XXIII spoke of peace in very broad terms, in a specifically anthropological sense. This means he wrote the Pacem in Terris from a metahistoric perspective: Without making any specific references to moments in history – though the reference to the harsh reality of the Cold War is implicit – John XXIII says that to build any kind of inner or external peace, man has to change. In this sense, the Pacem in Terris focuses completely on the human being: humans are the source of peace and war. The encyclical says building peace is an immense task but it is possible on a historical level. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace promotes the principles it was set up to promote during the Second Vatican Council, starting with the Church’s social doctrine. Through the National Commissions for Justice and Peace which form part of the world’s numerous bishops’ conferences, the dicastery also acts as a global reference point and coordinator .
Promoting peace means bringing justice among people. Do poverty and the crisis slow down peace efforts?
They slow peace down in the sense that they trigger horrific wars. Even in countries where there is no armed conflict, there are conflicts caused by the economic and financial crisis. Let’s hope then that politics, understood as a commitment to the common good, can find essential solutions to this crisis which has serious consequences for individuals, families and society as a whole.
Which situations risk becoming explosive and what can/must diplomacy do to help?
Not just diplomacy, but also society’s intermediaries. Vatican diplomats have a clear picture of the global war situation. Ideally diplomats would intervene in all these conflicts, especially in countries that have shown the greatest disrespect to fundamental human rights. But of course we need to look at war in a broad sense, the way John XXIII saw it: that is that war should not only be seen in terms of armed conflicts but as conflicts in people’s hearts, conflicts caused by the crisis, by the lack of jobs, by unemployment; wars in and between communities and societies. Hence the need for broad intervention.
You come from Africa, a continent that is rich in resources but where there is no equal distribution of wealth. What can the Church do to foster development there?
The Church can help the African people make their own decisions, at their own pace, benefiting dialogue, reconciliation, culture, jobs and development. The Church does a great deal in terms of concrete actions in Africa – I’m thinking of training, education and assistance – but it does not offer technical solutions: Christianity changes peoples’ hearts. It is not a mere charity, or as Pope Francis called it, a “compassionate NGO”.
What aspect of Pope Francis’ pontificate have you found the most striking?
“The three priorities he set out at the beginning of his pontificate, when he mentioned his embrace with Cardinal Claudio Hummers, who told him not to forget the poor. So the first priority Francis set himself were the poor and the Church’s poverty. His opposition to war and love for creation are two other traits that distinguish Francis who follows the shining example of St. Francis of Assisi. These are the three things at the top of Francis’ list of priorities: the poor, war and peace and creation. This is what struck me and continues to strike me the most, especially as these are the exact priorities of the Council for Justice and Peace. This really makes me feel like a have a big responsibility on my shoulders.”