Catholic Cardinal Speaks to the Plight of Refugees as Visiting Scholar

Friday, January 18, 2019
Cardinal Peter Turkson speaks at Rockhurst University

The guest of the Visiting Scholar Lecture Series on Thursday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, said the issues facing refugees are many. But perhaps one of the largest hindrances to an effective global response to the ongoing crisis is not a lack of resources.

“The plight of the refugee is essentially a lack of recognition,” Cardinal Turkson said.

Since named its first prefect by Pope Francis in 2016, Cardinal Turkson has led the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, a unification of four different pontifical councils formed after the Second Vatican Council with common goals to call attention to and advocate for holistic solutions to challenges like the refugee crisis.

His visit to campus was the result of a case study titled "Refugees," authored by Rockhurst President the Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., and Michael Stellern, Ph.D., professor of economics and published in the inuagural issue of the journal Global Jesuit Case Series. In researching the political, economic and theological considerations of the refugee crisis, they contacted the cardinal through his Jesuit secretary and, as a result of that conversation, he agreed to speak on campus.

Fr. Turkson, a figure many consider a potential candidate for the papacy, compared the global response to refugees to a leaking spigot. The impulse might be to clean up the mess.

“But unless you are able to stop the leak, you will be mopping and mopping water forever,” he said.

Instead, according to Cardinal Turkson, society must address the fundamental issues that drive people from their homes and nations and into the uncertainty of refugee status — war, political unrest, environmental devastation, religious or ethnic repression, and lack of opportunities chief among them. He said his office works to influence world leaders and support policies and projects that reflect the goals of peace, justice and solidarity among all people, regardless of their circumstances.

Fundamentally, Cardinal Turkson said, what guides the work the dicastery does in the world — and what can combat the sense of indifference he said is one of the impediments to welcoming and helping refugees —  is the belief that all people have an inherent dignity and that protecting and fostering that sense of dignity is a fulfilment of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching.

“There is no one person who has more dignity than another person. Otherwise, the Greeks would not have called brothers and sisters ‘adelphi,’” he said. “With that word that they used, they say that we are from the same womb. And people from the same womb cannot have more dignity than others.”