Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, prefect of our Dicastery for Promotion Human Integral Development starts the “Podcasts From The Future” (#PodcastsFromFuture) series brought to you as part of a series of conversations about the issues being discussed by the Vatican Covid19 Commission. To do this series we have spoken to a wide range of people, inside Catholic Church and outside, about what is needed to “prepare the future” in the light of the coronavirus pandemic and the wider environmental crisis facing the world. We are grateful to Faith Invest and to the colleagues of the BBC Sunday program (BBC Radio 4) and also to Vatican Radio (Vatican News), for their collaboration and support in the realization of it. By the moment the Podcasts are only in English
Edward Stourton is the main presenter of Sunday, the BBC’s weekly program on religious and ethical news, and regularly presents News and Current Affairs programs on BBC Radio Four. He interviewed Card. Peter Turkson some weeks ago on his program Sunday, but this Podcast which opens the section “Podcasts” on our special site “Vatican Covid-19 Commission” is much longer and interesting, covering issues with more time and ready to listen.
Cardinal Turkson has answered Edward Stourton questions. The first one was “Why Pope Francis wants people to “prepare the future” and what he hopes the Vatican’s Covid19 Commission can achieve?”.
We invite you to listen to the Podcasts ad also to read the complete interview transcripted below.
Cardinal Turkson The setting up of the commission was occasioned by the incidence of this Covid. And what we hope to achieve is to present, and then to express, the Church's presence and accompaniment of humanity going through this crisis, this tough moment in history. And so we created five working groups to follow this Covid in different aspects. First is to establish the Vatican's contact and connection with local churches all over the world, listen to their experiences, are they coping?, and to try to identify where the Vatican can be of support and help.
Then there is a second group which is trying to figure out the future and the post-Covid world. And as the Holy Father has invited us to do, it's not just to think about recovery, or going back to some form of normality, but it's to generate a new future. To see, you know, where the present system, having been brought down to its knees by the Covid can be strengthened in the way that it will be more robust, in the way that it will be more sustainable, in the way that it can help humanity just achieve a world of, you know, integral growth and development.
And then recognising that the Vatican is a state, we also explore how the Vatican as a state can relate with other states in the area of advocacy so that we can just help all of humanity come out of this crisis together.
E.S.: The second of those objectives sounds very radical and very ambitious. How realistic do you think it is that you can rewrite the rules of the world in that way?
Cardinal Turkson No, we're not, we're not going to rewrite the rules. But for us as a Church, as Christians and all of that, we've always got the lead of the Scriptures.
So, yes, it's challenging, but everybody is talking about generating a new future. It's just that the details of this new future, in the context of the great uncertainties that we're dealing with now, is not clear to anybody. We want to derive some inspiration from Scripture and try to suggest new trajectories or pathways where humanity can come out because, you know, this pandemic is revealing certain values in society that are worth recalling, reliving, and returning to.
E.S.: Your home continent of Africa has seen pandemics in the past. I suppose the big difference this time is that this pandemic has hit the developed world very hard, including, of course, very much the United States. How do you think that changes the kind of impact that it's likely to have in political terms?
Cardinal Turkson Yes, the big pandemic, I suppose you may be referring to, may be that of Ebola and Ebola is similar to this Covid in the way of its infection contagiousness and all, but also radically different. Ebola was essentially regional – three countries in West Africa, including that of DRC, Congo; the rest of the world was free. So there was a world that one could cry to and ask for help from and there was a world that could come to the aid of these three countries in their need. And it was possible to manage it very, very easily and very quickly.
The present one [Covid], however, is global, is pandemic, hardly any community in the world has been spared. Therefore, there is a challenge. At the beginning of this pandemic in Europe, the European Union had a legislation which prevented it from sending equipment outside the Union to other countries because it was felt that they needed every bit of equipment here. So you didn't get that when there was Ebola. That is something that has become real during this pandemic. Everybody is struck by this and everybody's struggling, finding ways of emerging from this, wanting to protect their citizens as best as possible.
So there is a big difference there. The thing that is common to both pandemics was that all of them led to the collapse of economic structures, collapse of social values, social livelihood and all of that. Joblessness was on the increase. People in their cultures got challenged in a very strong way. For example, in Africa, to think that a parent can die without a decent burial was something that was unheard of. And that was a big challenge to several groups at the beginning. So these challenges, you know, are challenges that we also see in the days during this Covid-19 crisis.
E.S.: But do you think the fact that it is affecting the developed world, maybe that it's easier for you to make the case for radical change in the future?
Cardinal Turkson Not necessarily. Radical change is something that we as a Church or the Vatican, are imposing, and that's not it. We are not imposing any change. We're just inviting humanity to recognise the reality that we're dealing with, and what the challenges of Covid show us as a human family.
I mean, it's ironical that just when we, the human family, is involved in development and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), we have a structure that brings everything down to its knees. So what is sustainable in our, if you want, our present forms of civilisation, everything that is being devolved so far? It's a call to recognise that our systems have not been robust enough. Our systems, at the end of the day, are not really sustainable. And such a recognition just invites us to recraft and relaunch everything that we've had. So I think it's the revelation of the weaknesses in our human structures which we want to draw attention to and help us basically learn the lessons that we need to learn from the present situation.
E.S.: How concerned are you that precisely because so much of the world is struggling to get over the impacts of the pandemic, countries will turn inward, will become economically nationalistic, if you like, and worry more about themselves and less about brotherhood.
Cardinal Turkson That's already happening. That's already happening. So, just yesterday, I think, the Secretary of the Exchequer was presenting to the public in Great Britain about the new measures that are being adopted. Companies are going to be receiving subsidies so that they do not lay off workers. But I think they are going to be supported by bonds.
Now, from the use of bonds to support structures like this, the question that follows is: 'Who suffers from all of this?' The establishment of bonds to enable - in this case, England, but also the United States and several other countries - to emerge out of this, automatically transfer the burden of all of this ultimately to the developing world. I know that we've tried to make a case for cancellation or the postponement of debt payment for a lot of developing countries so the governments can use the monies that they needed to pay to their lending groups in order to take care of this situation. Well, we know that at the end of the day, there will be some differences in this regard.
And still, there's the need for solidarity among humanity. The fraternity still needs to be real because if England or the US or all of Europe gets rid of Covid and there is somewhere in the world, one single case of Covid, our world is still not safe. So it is in the interests of the human family, wherever it exists, to ensure that we eradicate this and eradicate it completely. It's in the interests of all of us. So the decision or the solutions of economically handling groups to emerge out of Covid, you know, on national levels is a pretty limited and short term vision of a way of dealing with this Covid.
E.S.: You, I know, were a great supporter of Pope Francis's encyclical, Laudato si''? What relevance do you think that has to the work of the commission?
Cardinal Turkson A lot. A lot, because the big thing about the encyclical is the expression of Pope Francis that everything is interconnected, that development or ecology is not simply natural, it's also human, it's also social and it ultimately means that of peace. Now, since everything is so interconnected, we need to recognise that this pandemic started as a health care issue, as a problem of health. So what started as an issue of health is now affected economics, it's affected politics. it's affected security, it's affected artificial intelligence. It's affected all kinds of things, you know, upon which humanity, or our society, these days hangs on or works by. So the message, then, of the encyclical is to recognise the interconnectedness of everything that, you know, gets our society moving. It's a very useful recognition and it's stuff that we need to get to.
E.S.: And looking ahead to the Commission and the implementation of whatever it comes up with, what sort of work would you expect to be doing with your Dicastery to try and sell the vision, if you like, that the Commission comes up with.
Cardinal Turkson We've already begun. We've now talked with almost all local churches in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in North America and Canada. So we have a pretty clear idea of what the situation is and what the different groups are doing. So, knowing what they're doing, it's kind of easy for us to also plan our support system.
Secondly, we also have established a lot of working groups which, in relationship with several economists around the world, ecologists around the world, are helping us to project what the challenges in the different areas are. We are talking about security and it's in the area of food supply. So food security and food safety are stuff that we are considering already now and we're talking with the FAO [Food Agriculture Organisation] to see how we can plan a post-Covid world that ensures food security and food safety for a lot of the needy communities.
Unfortunately, we just learnt that food insecurity is increasing in China, for example, by 60 million. So we're not doing too well in that. And it's something that we need to focus on and see how we can improve upon this. This is in China, a similar situation is in Africa. In fact, some of the assistance that our office is now rendering to some of the Covid-stricken countries is not actually by way of providing medical assistance. It's actually helping to feed people, helping ensure people's access to food and everything that will help them stay alive. So I think we are very, very much optimistic that we can help, we can help make a difference.
* We are grateful to FaithInvest and to the colleagues of the BBC Sunday program (BBC Radio 4) and to Vatican Radio (Vatican News), for their collaboration and support in the realization of this section of the Vatican Covid-19 Commission.