Interview with Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson
L'Osservatore Romano

Mario Ponzi

Respect for Creation essential to justice in Africa

Africa is ready to put all its spiritual resources at the disposition of the Church and the world. In exchange it asks only respect and solidarity. Among those who propose this new way to serve is Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, who was appointed President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace last 24 October [2009]. Many other African priests have likewise been called to work in the Roman Curia: a sign of the great attention with which Benedict XVI follows the development of the Church in Africa. The following is the text of the interview which Cardinal Turkson granted to L'Osservatore Romano.

How can Africa respond to the expectations of the universal Church?

Pope Benedict XVI's confirmation of the desire of his Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, to hold a Second Synod of Bishops for Africa; his Pastoral Visit to Africa to deliver the Instrumentum Laboris of that Synod; his challenge to African Heads of State about practices of Good Governance; his almost unfailing presence at the Synod; his invitation to Africa to cherish her truly human values, referring to her as a healthy lung of humanity which must maintain its healthiness through the avoidance of toxic values of foreign cultures, such as relativism and atheistic secularism; and finally his recent affirmation, in his Discourse to the Roman Curia, of the Church's great concern for the Church in Africa: these amply prove the great love and pastoral solicitude of the Holy Father for Africa. For such a demonstration of paternal affection and care, the Church in Africa is eternally grateful.

Besides her sentiments of gratitude, the Church in Africa also looks upon the rest of the universal Church with great interest, love and pastoral solicitude. The Churches of Europe and North America, their missionaries helped to establish the Churches in Africa and have become "ancestors in the faith" for the local African Christian Church communities. For these local European and, to a lesser degree, North American Churches, the hope and wish of the Church in Africa are that they spare her the experience of being "orphan Churches". This will be the experience of the Churches in Africa if the lands of the missionaries no longer espouse and believe in the faith their children once left their lands to proclaim in Africa. In the face of the likelihood of this experience, the local Churches in Africa feel compelled by filial piety and duty to support the Churches in the lands of the missionaries even with their meagre resources. A local African Church will willingly send a priest on mission to keep a Church in the countries of former missionaries from closing because of lack of personnel.

In your new office, how useful is the experience you gained on a continent whose history, also in recent times, has all too often been marked by conflicts, by the lack of lasting peace and by the continuous quest for justice?

I am aware that I step into office as President of Justice and Peace, I bring to the role everything I have experienced on the continent of Africa, which as you put it, has always had to suffer from the lack of lasting peace and is always in search of justice.

In the first place, Africa would be much happier if the world ceased to refer to it as a small homogenous country. Africa would very much appreciate it, if all who talk about her took the trouble to recognize that they talk about the second largest continent in the world, made up of over 50 countries, with various and diverse cultures, histories, economies, political experiences, etc. Instead of speaking generically about an Africa that has always had to suffer from the lack of lasting peace, one should speak of those countries in Africa that have undergone these circumstances. And it would be better still if the countries were specified. This is an apparently innocuous exercise; but it would go a long way to curb the tendency to over-generalize events and experiences on the continent, making people speak about Africa and its countries only in stereotypes. This is also what Africa has had to suffer!

Yet the majority of African countries suffer from conflicts often fratricidal and from the abuse of power, which frequently comes from abroad but is promoted by African allies.

The principal causes of the lack of lasting peace in Africa and its persistent search for justice, are known to everybody. Apart from such natural causes as the harsh environment of deserts and rain forests, the lack of peace and the search for justice in parts of the continent have to do principally with politics (bad political leadership) and its exploitation of ethnic and religious differences to prop it up, the economics of keeping Africa as a "market" for manufacturing countries and the world's need for its mineral resources, and new versions of religious conquests and impositions.

In the face of all these, it may be useful to recall an observation in a local daily with regard to Africa: It is time to stop hitting readers in the stomach, presenting them only with repulsive images of the miseries and woes of Africa. It has not paid off. It is time to recognize that this would be in the interest of all that Africa develops. Fairness, truthfulness and a sense of solidarity in the rest of the world's dealings with the countries of Africa would go a long way to restore peace and justice to Africa; and they are also the virtues that the African experience can contribute to the world's sense of peace and justice.

Speaking of peace, this year's Message far the World Day of Peace emphasizes its relationship to the protection of Creation. In what ways can Africa witness to this?

Solidarity is one of the virtues that Africa, from its experience, contributes to the world's sense of peace. This is true not only of the relationship between humanity's different parts and nations, where solidarity among nations translates into concern and responsibility for each other. It is also true of the relationship between humanity and the created world which supports its life. The protection of Creation, called for by the Holy Father, was against its misuse through degradation, pollution, deforestation, refuse and toxic waste dumping, etc.

In this sense, there are several countries in Africa which are guilty of abusive use and treatment of the gift of Creation. Over and above the bizarre instances of citizens from African countries accepting monies from European countries to provide dumping grounds in their own countries for industrial toxic waste, the greatest abuse and misuse of the environment are registered in the areas of extractive industries, such as mining and drilling for oil, and lumbering.

Human life, indeed, cannot do without the minerals and metals which only mining can produce. Paradoxically, however, mining is also an activity which gravely threatens human existence, denuding lands and stripping the earth bare of the organic and vegetal cover which supports the growth of life-sustaining food. Chemicals that are used in the extraction of some minerals are so toxic that their contamination of water bodies also poison various life forms on which human life depends. In the case of oil drilling, it is the oil itself which contaminates the environment and renders it lifeless.

Uncontrolled lumbering is not only a disrespect of the earth; it also threatens all life forms by breaking the hydrological cycle and by increasingly diminishing the earth's water supply.

Human life's dependence on and need for Creation describes their solidarity; and this requires that man's presence on earth and his use of the gift of Creation must be that of a stewardship exercised judiciously and responsibly. In several places, such responsible stewardship is ensured by laws and contracts. Where such safeguards are not dutifully observed, as in some African countries, the misuse of Creation becomes life-threatening and a threat to the peace of humanity.

It is no coincidence that in his Message, the Pope appeals for a change of lifestyle.

Significantly, it is not the recourse to laws and contracts to ensure the judicious and responsible use of the gift of Creation that the Holy Father considers with primary emphasis as a true safeguard of humanity's respect for Creation. He would, indeed, call for the application of "new rules and forms of engagement" and acting in accordance with "clearly-defined rules" in man's dealings with the gift of Creation. But these have to be expressions of changed lifestyles: "lifestyles marked by sobriety and solidarity", and new models of development and consumption.

Thus, it is a change in attitudes, value systems and lifestyles that the Holy Father calls for: "a profound cultural renewal", which entails a "profound, long-term review of our model of development", a commitment to people's right to life, food, health, drinking water, clean air, new sources of energy and a sense of responsible stewardship of Creation that reflects man's solidarity with the poor, with other dependants (users) of the goods of the earth and with generations unborn and yet-to-come.

The Holy Father's call for discernment about new lifestyles, new models of development and consumption, new strategic planning and far-sighted official policies shows that the prevailing human attitudes and conduct towards Creation and the goods of the earth are bankrupt, myopic and selfish. There is an urgent need for another guiding light: another "ratio" and principle of discernment to guide humanity's exercise of its God-given mandate to "have dominion over the earth". That "ratio" and principle of discernment is none other than that which transformed chaos into cosmos: the beautiful, well-ordered system, equipped to support human life (cf. Gen 1). It is the Word of God.

The issue of water and not just in Africa has been much debated. Do you think water will be the next burning issue to confront?

Possibly. Water and its availability on earth is already an issue for humanity. Its shortage is bound to hit really hard Africa and several other regions which lie in the tropics in the near future.

Several events and experiences on earth contribute to making the crisis of water imminent on earth: global warming, the result of green gas emission and the depletion of the ozone layer is fast diminishing the earth's traditional stores of water in ice caps (on mountains) and ice sheets in the polar regions. These are melting fast; and the melting water does not increase the earth's water supply. Rather it raises the sea level to render coastal underground waters saline and non-potable. Desertification is both a cause and an effect of water shortage on the face of the earth. It is a cause of water shortage when lumbering, bad farming methods, over grazing and absolute dependence on wood for fuel and energy depletes the vegetation cover of the earth. The recent observation, that there is a huge reservoir of underground water in the Sahara may prove the point. In that case the discovery of a technology to bring the water back to the surface of the Sahara will be the best thing that ever happened to Africa.

Africa's generally high temperatures, the fast rate of denudation and removal of its vegetation cover through surface (open pit) mining and uncontrolled lumbering, the pollution of its traditional water sources (rivers and wells) through the use of mining-related toxic material and the deleterious forms of land-use in traditional communities: all of these make Africa potentially the first victim of an imminent water crisis on the earth. Unless, again out a sense of solidarity with the continent, its people and its future, there is a drastic review of the methods and forms of all human activity on the continent.

In his Discourse to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) the Pope denounced the scandal of the enormous amount of food wasted that would be enough to satisfy the world's hunger. Yet some argue that the problem of scarce food resources could be resolved by the use of technology and cultivation methods. What is your view?

Technology and scientific discoveries certainly seek to improve human life and its condition; but they have also never been devoid of the sense of gaining an advantage, an advantage that easily metamorphose into the acquisition of a profit-seeking power and a means of control, domination and exploitation. Certainly, research requires funding and investment, which research discoveries must pay back; but it is questionable whether the advantage gained through discoveries must become a profit-seeking, dominating and exploiting power. Unfortunately, this is the attitude which dominates world business; and so resources are destroyed so that market prices can be kept at a desired level.

Some such phenomenon constitutes the scandal, which, as you say, the Holy Father denounced in his Address to FAO. Accordingly, the discovery and introduction of "genetically modified crops/seeds" as a solution to world-hunger problems and famine, is trailed by great anxiety and suspicion about its intentions. The growing of corn by an African peasant farmer from corn seeds that he has kept from the harvest of the previous year gives him more food security than growing a genetically modified seed, which may give a high yield, but over whose availability he has no control. Since the work of research must be paid for, the gen-modified seeds must be paid for... by the farmer, his Government or the United Nations (FAO); and they can be withheld from him.

In the face of all this, one wonders, whether, with a little bit of political will, good thinking and prioritization of the well-being of its people a Government in a so-called hungry country cannot feed its people. Just a small example: Burkina Faso lies north of Ghana, and is far closer to the desert than Northern Ghana. Burkina Faso has fewer rivers, and so less water, than Northern Ghana. Yet with her vigorous programme of dams, wells and irrigation, Burkina Faso grows strawberries, string beans and Irish potatoes which Northern Ghana does not grow.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
10 March 2010, page 5

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