Cardinal Turkson: The human person is central to care for creation

Man looking at a mountain Credit UnSplash CNA 10 9 15 Joshua Earle via UnSplash.

As the Catholic and Orthodox worlds unite to celebrate a day of prayer for the care of creation, the Vatican's social justice head is offering a reminder that the human person must be at the center of efforts to better the environment.

"It's very simple: the core of development is the human person. And that's why Pope Benedict referred to development as a vocation. It's a vocation that we people have and that basically is a spiritual reference," Cardinal Turkson told CNA Sept. 1.

"It's so important that we get a very clear perspective about what we're doing, about the dignity of people, about their own relationship and dignity, (and) relation with God," he said.

The cardinal stressed that it's especially important to remember that "in rendering service in any country to anybody, we seek to improve upon the image of God that already exists in the person."

Cardinal Turkson spoke to CNA on the same day that Pope Francis released his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which takes place each year on Sept. 1 and was instituted in 2015 shortly after the release of the Pope's environmental encyclical "Laudato Si."

In addition to serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Turkson is the president-elect for the newly established dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. He was a key player in drafting the environmental encyclical.

In his role as head of the new Vatican department, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2017, the cardinal will oversee the Holy See's involvement in issues surrounding migration, slavery, poverty and exclusion, as well as armed conflicts and natural disasters.

In a Sept. 1 news conference on Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Cardinal Turkson emphasized that care of creation is about care of people: "When we hurt the earth, we also hurt the poor, whom God loves without limit."

"So we are being asked to complement both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy with care for our common home," he said, referencing Pope Francis' message suggesting that an eighth spiritual and corporal work of mercy – care for creation – be added to the traditional sets of seven each.

When asked if he knew about this "eighth work of mercy," Turkson replied that he had not had any discussion with Pope Francis about it.

When it comes to examples of how to put the human being and human dignity at the center of all we do, Cardinal Turkson pointed to Mother Teresa, who will be canonized Sunday, as a key figure.

"So now with Mother Teresa, the celebrating of her sainthood in the next few days becomes a big invitation to all of us to know the significance of under-girding our life of service and ministry, of all kinds, with a deep personal life of spirituality and prayer," he said.

"So thank God for Mother Teresa, and for the example she's giving to all of us."

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