Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson has said that while the Vatican is “not trying to be the UN,” it can and is determined to listen and respond to those in need “on the peripheries.”
The cardinal from Ghana, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, made these observations to ZENIT in a press conference Friday morning at the Vatican press office.
The press conference was to present an upcoming world meeting for “popular movements;” the meeting will gather groups such as an organization of agricultural workers who are not landowners from Brazil, an organization representing indigenous peoples in South America, and an Argentinean group of workers.
Also present at the press conference were Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and event spokesman and organizer Juan Grabois.
The World Meeting of Popular Movements will take place Oct. 27-29 at Rome’s Universita Pontifica Salesiana. The event is being organized by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
More than 100 representatives of popular groups and movements, not necessarily Catholic, are gathering from all over the world for next week’s meeting. They will meet to share, discuss and face five key topic areas: the growing challenges of housing, work, land, violence and environment.
Pope Francis, Cardinal Turkson said, continually reminds the Church to go to the peripheries of human existence and embrace the excluded, the marginalized, those who are rejected and in danger of being discarded.
“This initiative,” he said, “is an opportunity to respond to this invitation.”
“It’s this sense of the Church responding to the needy. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s not something new in the Church.”
Reflecting on this meeting’s novelty, he said, “We get to see the situations that we are responding to.”
“What is unique about this encounter is that we get to say for the first time: ‘You, in this situation, tell us about yourself. Tell us about your experience, about what you want.’”
“This is the kind of situation people have always longed for,” he said, noting that, in general, “it’s always the UN [who responds], and coming with aid packages, and so on.”
“However, at a certain point,” he continued, “when things go awry and they don’t realize their objectives,” it becomes apparent that it would have been best “to listen to the local needs: those, who are living through this, what they need and want.”
The cardinal said that this is what the organizers want to create for the various groups who will be coming together.
“Naturally, the Church is widespread and international,” he admitted. “But we’re not trying to replace the United Nations, in any way, in doing this.”
“But for our own sake and for that of all those who need to be heard and need this attention, we are making it possible, as has never been done before, to bring them together through this platform we created for them.”
“This is for everyone,” he said, noting there will be groups from around the world, including Muslims and non-believers, because “they all share one experience in life: the experience of living in the margins of society.”
“The point,” he said, “is to perceive things as they see them, themselves … from their own point of view, and then try to respond to that.”
“The World Meeting of Popular Movements,” Cardinal Turkson stated, “promises to be a great dialogue with a view to on-going communication, cooperation and coordination amongst the grass-roots movements and between them and the Church at every level.”
Echoing the words of a local bishop who said: “We aren’t sufficiently aware of this drama in general,” Archbishop Sorondo reiterated the need to have such an encounter in which to hear from the people themselves, who are living through these situations.
“We need to be attentive,” the prelate added, reminding those present that “there are so many people who don’t have a place in society.”
The Vatican officials also noted that the Holy Father will be participating on Wednesday, the last day of the meeting, at which time he will give remarks and participate in a dialogue.
Fr. Lombardi noted that this exchange with the Pope will not be open to the public or to the press.