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New Dicastery for Integral Human Development. Card. Turkson, “change is possible”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in operation as of January 1st 2017, describes the innovate aspects linked to the reform vowed by Pope Francis, with a glimpse into the question of climate change as addressed on the opposite sides of the Ocean

“Our primary concern is to concur with the Pope and show that change is possible, and that we actually achieved that change.” Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the new Department, – also called Dicastery – for Promoting Integral Human Development, thus described the intense work carried out over the past months in the apostolic buildings to merge the Pontifical Councils for Migrant and Itinerant Peoples, for Justice and Peace, Healthcare Workers and Cor Unum in one sole Department. The new Dicastery, which took effect on of January 1st 2017, was formally established by Pope Francis with a “Motu proprio” on August 17 2016.  Its responsibilities include the challenges of migration, poverty, victims of armed conflicts, slavery and torture, natural disasters, detainees, unemployed. Pope Francis will personally follow the section on refugees and migrants headed by two undersecretaries, Fr Fabio Baggio and Father Michael Czerny. From Via della Conciliazione in Rome the four Dicasteries will be merged in a single office located in the Vatican’s extra-territorial compound of San Callisto in Rome’s Trastevere area. Card. Turkson announced that the upcoming transformations would include “intensified dissemination of Church messages and teachings” in the areas of refugees and migrants, whose mission includes the question of human trafficking.

At what point is the creation of the new Dicastery? It’s a major challenge, in a positive way. The Pope wishes to unify the four departments with the goal of integral human development. Our task is to make it possible. Indeed, the pace of our work has increased. We tried not to create a conglomerate of four Dicasteries but rather to reformulate the social vision of the Church with a view to one all-encompassing body. Nothing is lost of the previous Dicasteries, due to come together to follow the same direction. The process is bound to be slow, but we want to be sure we will make no mistakes dictated by hurry.

How is the organization taking shape at operational and concrete level? It was the Pope’s explicit wish that no job would be lost as a result of the merging. The total members of staff of the various Dicasteries amount to 63 people. For example, each Dicastery had two ushers, 8 all together. The workers must be reinstated and acquire new skills via targeted training. It’s a very interesting activity. We developed a single organization chart because all Dicasteries have something in common: they all carry our research and survey activities and they all organize seminars and conferences. The area for research and development will be separate from the various forms of apostolate, namely charity, mercy, healthworkers, the projects created by the different Popes (for the Sahel, Populorum Progressio, etc). We ought to identify a logical system to follow the Church’s different activities. The basic principle is to concur with the Pope and show that it is possible; many people are sceptical about it. Hence our primary concern is to say that change is feasible and that we have carried out those changes.

The Pope will personally oversee the section for refugees and migrants. What are the new developments expected in this area? 
The Pontifical Council for Migrant and Itinerant People encompassed many different areas, such as refugees, migrants, Roma, people working in the maritime and airport industries. Those areas have been restricted to migrants and refugees,

To which was added the sector on human trafficking.

Father Baggio and Father Czerny are the two Undersecretaries of the Dicastery, but they have a privileged communication channel with the Pope with whom they discuss everything and who gives them instructions.

We expect Church messages and teachings in this area to intensify.

Some had envisioned the possibility of an encyclical, but at this stage it’s just an idea. All we know is that the Pope wants to proclaim to the whole world that this theme is especially dear to him. That’s why he decided to step up research and reflections in this field.

The tasks of the Dicastery include, inter alia, the theme of climate change, addressed in “Laudato si’”. What kind of commitment do you ask of Catholics worldwide? 
The specific feature of social doctrine is to establish a set of principles. The concrete implementation of those principles is the responsibility of the various Churches, given the diversity of situations. In the Encyclical the Pope mentions the position of numerous Bishops’ Conferences on the theme of climate change, which is something new.

It is the task of the Bishops’ Conferences to be active at local level.

Herein lies the subsidiarity of the Church. During my travels, people often ask me why priests don’t talk to them about this theme. Last time it happened in the United States. It’s the responsibility of the local Churches. In fact we give our support; we can publish articles and essays on the encyclical on our website. But the local Churches are tasked with defining the details. That’s subsidiarity.

Talking about the United States: is there a risk that President-elect Donald Trump, who has already taken a stand on this matter, might reverse the Country’s position in the fight on global warming? USA is only a Country among many others, although it bears considerable importance.

But if we bring together China, Russia and the EU we might still succeed. Our hope is that those near Trump will gradually open his eyes on reality as it is.

We received a large amount of critical remarks after the Pope announced that he would publish the encyclical “Laudato Si.”’ Some argued that a lie was being transformed into a truth: there still are those who believe that climate change doesn’t exist.

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