One of Pope Francis’ main point men for his environmental and social justice agenda on Wednesday urged a packed crowd of nearly 600 people at Molloy College to carry on the mission.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, who helped write and present the pope’s landmark encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si” or “Be Praised,” said overconsumption and a lack of care for the planet requires an economic and spiritual “revolution.” Francis released the document in June.
“Our failures are that we over-consume and that we do not share the gifts of creation,” Turkson, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the standing-room-only crowd in the Madison Theater on the Rockville Centre campus. “This has dire consequences for the poor and the planet. And so it is urgent that we change our sense of [human] progress, our management of the economy, and our style of life.”
“Caring for our common home requires, as Pope Francis says, not just an economic and technological revolution, but also a cultural and spiritual revolution — a profoundly different way of living the relationship between people and the environment, a new way of ordering the global economy.”
Turkson, 67, who is from Ghana and is archbishop emeritus of Cape Coast, was mentioned as a candidate for the papacy during the 2013 conclave in Rome that ultimately elected Francis. If he had been chosen, Turkson would have become the first black pope and the first from Africa. Since then, he has become one of Francis’ key advisers, church analysts said.
“He’s on the front lines of the issues that are very close to Pope Francis’ heart,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst at The National Catholic Reporter. Turkson “is really an important voice in the Vatican for the pope’s agenda. He’s an authoritative voice.”
Francis’ sweeping manifesto called for radical change to confront environmental degradation and climate change, and declared that an economic system in which the rich exploit the poor is turning the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”
Some conservatives criticized Pope Francis for attacking capitalism.
Turkson touched on that, saying, “The Holy Father is not anti-business. Business is a noble vocation. What he decries, rather, is an obsession with profits and a deification of the market.”
Some members of the public who attended the talk said it was thought-provoking.
“It certainly opened a lot of intellectual doors,” said Nicholas Zacchea, an economist from Floral Park.
Turkson’s talk was followed by a panel discussion among Catholic commentators from across the ideological spectrum.
One, R.R. Reno of the conservative journal “First Things,” said, “I find this notion of crisis overdone,” referring to fears of environmental degradation. He noted that smog conditions in Los Angeles are much better now than in the 1970s when he grew up there, for instance, and that life expectancy in Ethiopia has improved from 35 years to 60 years since 1950.
But Meghan Clark, an assistant professor of moral theology at St. John’s University, said, “I just can’t get to a point where as a Catholic I’m comfortable saying that it’s OK for humanity to cause mass extinction and loss of biodiversity among creation and say that we’re living in right relationship with God.”
In an interview before the presentation, Turkson said, “We received the Earth. The Earth was given to us as a garden, a place of delight. We may not pass it on as a wilderness.”
Asked if it is time for the first black pope and the first pope from Africa, Turkson said, “I have no way of saying. God is still in charge of his church. He has given us Francis from Argentina, who is coming to the papacy with a style of ministry from Argentina.
“So I think in God’s own time, when there is a need to also switch gears and have a different style of leadership in the church, we’ll get another figure ... If God in his providence wants to do something like that, may his will be done. I leave it all up to him.”