Why Poverty? Cardinal Peter Turkson responds

2012-11-29 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) As president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson travels around the world listening to the stories of those on the front lines of the fight against poverty, hunger and disease. His task is to support them and to enable them to use the Church’s own rich tradition of social teaching on justice, peace and human rights to change the structures inequality and oppression.
Ahead of the ‘Why Poverty’ media initiative taking place on November 29th, Cardinal Turkson sat down with Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen to talk about our changing perceptions of poverty, about his own childhood in Ghana and about the contribution the Church can play in the struggle for development and human dignity for all……


Can we talk about success for the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015?

Have we already achieved that goal? Not yet. There’s poverty and that’s about living on $1 a day, but right after the announcement of that noble objective about trying to achieve these goals by 2015, there’s also been an ongoing reflection about this, including redefining the sense of poverty…it’s moving away from the $1 dollar a day concept towards defining poverty in terms of access to education, to health care, to decent living….one may be able to make $1 a day and still have no access to these things….

What contribution can Catholic Social Teaching make to this reflection?

The basic sense of human dignity which generates various forms of human rights, the right to decent living, to health care, to fair wages and lately we include the right to energy and clean water. So I’m basically glad we’re invited to widen this concept to what makes for healthy living, as it’s not just what you have in your pocket…
We have now access to communication too – I was just talking to one bishop who was complaining about the lack of access to internet in his part of Congo, the biggest thing they suffer from is the poor development of communication networks, so there the issue of access to communication is a big factor. One can have a decent backyard farm or garden and produce food but lack access…..

Was this your own experience, growing up in Ghana?

There were 10 of us, taken care of by parents who were not in school themselves, my father was a carpenter in a mining company, my mother traded in vegetables in the market, we didn’t have a car or a bicycle or anything, just that we were sure of having three meals a day, of our school fees being paid and at least once a year, at Christmas, we had new clothes – for us that made life liveable. Right now everyone has a decent profession – that’s why I appreciate this widening of the concept of poverty to what makes life worth living….

What goals should we be setting after 2015, after the MDGs?

Definitely there will be some spill-over from these MDGs – clean water will still stay on the agenda, access to health care, education, will still be things to work on. For the Church we need to recognise that we have one of the most powerful tools that can become a big motor for human development - what we call the Social Doctrine of the Church. Our great wish is that we get familiar with the content of this…

It’s often called the Church’s best kept secret?

It should not be a secret any more – in some cases it’s a neglected secret, houses of formation know very little about it. In the past we looked at the Church as the mystical body of Christ, the emphasis was on spiritual relationships, then Vatican II opened that up, it brought us to recognise that we as a family, the sense of the church in terms of social commitments…

This can bring tensions between faith and action?

It should not, there’s nobody who would deny that we’re social beings… so we need to explore the implications of living in society, of our network of relationships, the easiest definition of the social doctrine of the church is What am I, with my Christian faith, invited to witness to the love of Christ, how do I engage the social order, the political and economic life.

We must recognise that the faith and the charity we’re bringing to this is not shared by everybody – I prefer to talk about divergences than conflict…..since Vatican II this is what the Church has been trying to do, to see how we can engage with other Christians, with people of other faiths and with wider society. That basically is the project we’ve taken up in our office, to make the social doctrine of the Church better known…"