As the Catholic Church seeks new ways to ignite faith in secularized societies, its teachings about justice and peace should have a leading role, Cardinal Peter Turkson told an audience at Duquesne University Saturday.
Bishops from all over the world will hold a synod on this "new evangelization" next month in Rome, and Cardinal Turkson intends to champion this cause. "The church's social doctrine, at this point in time, is probably the most effective tool of evangelization," he said.
Cardinal Turkson, 65 and a native of Ghana, is president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Some analysts consider him a potential contender for the papacy.
Last year he made global headlines wtih an assessment of the international economic crisis that called for some type of authority to exercise global economic oversight and regulation. He has spoken out for land rights of poor people in developing nations and for environmental concerns. Pope Benedict XVI has sent him as an envoy to quietly defuse armed conflicts in Africa.He spoke at Duquesne to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, focusing on its impact on Africa. He also received an honorary doctorate from the university. He has an earned doctorate from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and did some of his studies for the priesthood in New York.
In an interview he elaborated on the role for social doctrine in evangelization, saying human rights and serving the common good "are the burning issues today. To see these being presented as the fruit of the Christian faith is very important."
In his talk on Vatican II, he noted that it created controversy followed by decline in the older churches of the West. In Africa, however, the church began to grow at a much faster rate than the population. While the general population of Africa has quadrupled since 1962, the number of Catholics septupled from 29 million to 186 million. The number of priests has grown from 15,000 to 40,000 and sisters from 9,000 to 26,000.
"Most of us came to the church after the Second Vatican Council, so we do not look back at a well-established church that now has to adopt and implement the Second Vatican Council. Instead, we feel part of the council," he said.
One of the biggest challenges the church faces in Africa is making its teachings on social justice a lived reality. Cardinal Turkson who was an archbishop in Ghana and a leader of the African bishops conference, said it's a point of frustration that many government leaders who attended Catholic schools have become corrupt. He is working with bishops to organize seminars for Catholics in public office about the importance of being a "servant leader," he said. All church teaching, the cardinal said, depends on parish priests to bring it to the people. Otherwise bishops and Vatican officials issue documents that only gather dust, he said.
"If a bishiop comes out with a statement, the hope is that the pastors will take it up," he said. "That is the only guarantee that the teaching of the church will go down to the roots. . . The effectiveness of bishops to a large extent depends on pastors."