Talk focuses on justice and the poor

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the first prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, delivered the annual McMahon Aquinas Lecture at St. Mary’s College.

In his lecture entitled “The Poor, the Vulnerable, and the Common Good,” Cardinal Turkson used the Servant of God Cardinal Cardijn’s model of “see, judge, act,” which influenced the Second Vatican Council, namely the document Gaudium et Spes.

Cardinal Turkson urged the audience to “seek to understand the experiences of the poor and vulnerable in our midst.” He began with an anecdote from the conclave that elected Pope Francis. When it became evident that Cardinal Bergoglio was going to be chosen, a fellow Argentinian, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes told him, “Couragio. But please do not forget the poor.” This influenced Cardinal Bergoglio to pick his regnal name in honor of St. Francis.

Cardinal Turkson described how, from the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has made apparent his concern for the poor and vulnerable. In Pope Francis’ closing words at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, he said, “To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”

Caring for creation is imperative to Francis’ papacy, as he wrote his second encyclical “On Common Care for Our Home,” Laudato Si. Though God tells Adam, “subdue the Earth and have dominion over it” (Gen 1:28), this does not mean to exploit the resources of the earth. Rather,  one should treat the earth with profound respect. Cardinal Turkson referenced how Saint Francis of Assisi treated the things of the earth with kinship; for example, in the Canticle of the Sun, the Saint praises God for “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” “The Earth is crying to us [for] our abusive treatment,” Cardinal Turkson remarked.

Cardinal Turkson continued by explaining that we must also care for the poor and vulnerable, whose nature is “not recognized.” They are often overlooked, so Pope Francis urges that we should practice “inclusive development.” “We understand development as economic growth,” Cardinal Turkson said, “but when the Church speaks of development, it always starts from the premise of human dignity.” Every human being is made in the imago Dei, and every human being shares the same dignity. This hearkens back to the notion of adelphos, “coming from the same womb.” “There are no different dignities,” the Cardinal affirms.

Another principle to consider is the nature of our humanity. “The nature of the human person is a fallen nature called to grace,” said Cardinal Turkson. He called to mind St. Paul’s words to the Letter to the Corinthians, in which he wrote, And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’” (2 Cor 12:9).

While discussing virtue and the Common Good, Cardinal Turkson spoke about Aquinas and ius, justice, which “is the first of all moral virtues––it directs all our virtues towards the Common Good.” For Cardinal Turkson, the Common Good can be actualized if “authority [is] exercised for the promotion of the common good,” as Saint Pope John XXIII wrote in Pacem in Terris. Hence, when we notice the interconnectedness of the poor, vulnerable, and the common good, we can achieve authentic integral human development.

Bea Cuasay is a sophomore studying Philosophy and Humanistic Studies and an aspiring Constitutional Studies minor. She is not in Michigan. If you’d like to discuss how God draws straight with crooked lines, you can email her at