Cardinal Turkson: Find faith in the mercy of caring for others

July 1, 2017


NEW ORLEANS — In an address to the Catholic Health Assembly here, Vatican emissary Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson called on the audience of Catholic health ministry leaders to shun the commodification of health care and rediscover the roots of faith in being merciful toward — and caring for — every human person.

Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA

Appointed in August 2016 by Pope Francis to serve as prefect for the newly instituted Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Turkson delivered the annual Bishop Sullivan Memorial Lecture. He spoke to the role of health care within the new dicastery and called on the people of Catholic health care to advance the health ministry's mission not only with their doing, but with their very being. A dicastery is a department within the Roman Curia, through which the pope directs the many ministries of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Turkson used the distinction between doing and being to discuss some of the characteristics of health care in the United States. Too much emphasis, he said, is focused on diagnostics, technology, research and procedures — activities that are all about doing tasks and accomplishing goals. He suggested that more emphasis needs to be directed to "being," which he defines as being firm in faith; being grounded in the fact that each person is made in the image of God; and being in relationship with each individual who needs care. Before Jesus healed anyone, he always entered into the person's world with compassion, the cardinal pointed out.

Quoting St. Paul's letter to the Hebrews, he said: "Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles."

Given that exhortation, Cardinal Turkson said, the Catholic health ministry will know what to do with the contemporary crises of suffering. Addiction, he noted, demands the attention of health care providers even more than infectious disease, because it affects so many and has no vaccines or cures. Abortion and the practice of "selective reduction" in pregnancies with multiple fetuses are further evidence of a commodity mentality, he said. The cardinal decried the increasing acceptance of physician-assisted suicide as another aspect of contemporary attitudes toward suffering, saying that the use of lethal drugs as a medical procedure is an affront to Catholic teaching about the dignity of each person and the redemptive possibilities of suffering.

Cardinal Turkson connected this perspective on suffering to the work of the late Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, for whom the lecture is named. Bishop Sullivan, an auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., was deeply committed to the concept that quality health care should be available for all people, especially those who are poor or vulnerable. He worked tirelessly as the director of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens and served 10 years on the Catholic Medical Mission Board.

Cardinal Turkson said Bishop Sullivan worked to better the circumstances of people who were poor, suffering with AIDS and those with little access to health care. Cardinal Turkson encouraged everyone to walk in the footsteps of Christ himself by putting heart in every action and by upholding the role of spirituality in health care.


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