One of Pope Francis’ main cardinals – who oversees Vatican offices addressing issues such as environmental pollution, climate change, health care, charity, immigrants and refugees on behalf of the Catholic Church worldwide – spoke in Fresno on Monday night about the importance of caring for the environment, “our common home,” as a way to help humanity and better understand God.
Cardinal Peter Turkson said “care for creation” means that “we respect how we use our resources of creation but also how we pay attention to the needy, the fragile, the poor ones, in our midst” during an invitation-only presentation at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in northeast Fresno.
The cry of the poor and the cry of the environment are not inseparable.
Turkson was invited to speak in Fresno by Bishop Armando Ochoa following the four-day Vatican-sponsored U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto.
Turkson outlined key points in the pope’s “Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home” encyclical, of which Turkson helped write the first draft. It got a lot of attention after its publication in summer 2015 for its mention of climate change as a threat, but Turkson sees it mostly as a social document.
“The cry of the poor and the cry of the environment are not inseparable,” he said.
Turkson said Francis, in his first mass as pope, asked people to assume a role similar to Joseph in the Bible “of being a guardian and custodian – this time not of Jesus and Mary – but by being custodians of the Earth, of the environment.” He said the pope considers the poor and the Earth to be the two most abused and neglected aspects of life in need of help.
Turkson spent his hour-long talk summarizing the encyclical, including:
▪ Pope Francis continued the teachings of other popes and consulted numerous bishops in his writing.
▪ Working together and dialogue – including between science and faith – can help create a better world, as does sympathy and a “sense of tenderness for creation.”
▪ Changing attitudes requires motivation, which can come in the form of education and learning the importance of “ecological citizenship.” Answering a question following his talk, Turkson encouraged people to do what they can to reduce carbon emission in the atmosphere.
Development also needs to be inclusive.
Turkson, originally from Ghana, became a cardinal in 2003. He currently heads the Vatican’s new Department for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, which recently combined the efforts of four pontifical councils, including the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Turkson previously headed the council.
In an evening news conference preceding his talk, Turkson answered a range of questions, including about immigration. Turkson said Pope Francis has been personally involved in following and addressing the plight of immigrants and refugees around the world.
“Now with the present situation, with wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Syria, it’s drawn a lot of people out. … So there is a lot of movement around the world, people looking for security, for safety, for better forms of living.”
Turkson said the pope and Catholic Church urge people to help migrants and refugees by supporting them on their journeys, and by helping them upon their arrival to new lands. The cardinal said the Vatican has had an office that addresses migration since the 1960s but the church’s work in this area has garnered more attention in recent years as people become increasingly displaced around the world.
“For the Christian Church and people of Biblical faiths, migration movement of people is very much associated also with the message of the Bible, from the time of the Exodus, from the flight of Mary and Joseph into Egypt, the displacement and the movement of people is very much part of the expression and formulation of the message of salvation,” Turkson said. “So for us, it is not something that we throw away or condemn – it’s something that always invited us to look for a deeper meaning and reason.”
At the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Turkson read a letter from the pope during a keynote speech on Thursday to around 700 faith and community leaders from 12 countries.
“The grave danger is to disown our neighbors,” Pope Francis wrote in his letter. “When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it – we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important commandments of Jesus.”
Like Saint Francis of Assisi, let us give everything of ourselves: Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, let us sow pardon; where there is discord, let us sow unity; where there is error, let us sow truth.
A letter from Pope Francis, read at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto
In his own remarks at the conference, Turkson reminded people that “Together we can face the challenges we’ve identified as exclusion.”
“Solidarity means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money … Let us seek for others the same opportunities we seek for ourselves,” the cardinal said. “If we want security, if we want life, then let us give security to others, if we want opportunities, then let us give opportunities to others.”
Turkson was to leave Fresno on Tuesday. His next stop is a seminary in San Francisco before returning to the Vatican.