First, the breaking news — Cardinal Peter Turkson, 61, the Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, the eloquent “relator” or general secretary of this month’s Synod for Africa, will succeed Cardinal Renato Martino (photo below), 77, as the head of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, it was announced today.
This will make Turkson the highest-ranking African cardinal in the Church, and give him important experience in a curial position, at the heart of the Church.
(Here is a good article from Ghana Business News on the appointment and its significance: http://ghanabusinessnews.com/2009/10/24/ghana’s-cardinal-turkson-gets-closer-to-becoming-first-black-pope)
The appointment was announced at 1 pm in the Vatican Press Office, in Turkson’s presence, at a Vatican Press Conference held to “wrap up” the Synod on Africa, by Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Pope’s press spokesman… and Turkson looked surprised.
As I wrote the day before yesterday, in an article entitled “The Next Pope?”, I sat next to Turkson at a special dinner for journalists Thursday evening.
Turkson knew that this appointment might be in the offing, as all the journalists asked him about it. It had been rumored for many months.
But when the decision was finally taken and communicated to Turkson, it was evidently communicated without any prior warning.
Turkson, when Lombardi announced the appointment, seemed almost overcome with emotion: a legitimate pride, but also a bit of shock.
For a moment, he was speechless. Then he smiled, expressed his gratitude to the Pope for the appointment, and fell silent again, at a loss for words.
One description of the moment comes from my colleague and friend, Joan Lewis, known around the world as one of the most well-informed journalists covering the Vatican. She is the Rome correspondent for EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica, and she has a “blog” about her daily experiences in Rome.
Tonight she wrote:
“Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, who presided at today’s fourth and final press conference of the Synod for Africa, made the announcement at the very outset of the 1 p.m. conference in the press office.
“Cardinal Turkson was joined at the conference by Archbishop Damiao Antonio Franklin of Luanda, president of the Angola episcopal conference and special secretary at the synod, and Bishop Edmond Djitangar of Sarh, Chad, also a special secretary at the synod.
“Cardinal Turkson, who has been rumored for some time to succeed Cardinal Martino, seemed surprised at the announcement today, not so much for the fact of having been nominated but for the fact the nomination would be made public today. I do know for a fact that he was asked some time ago to assume this presidency, and I wrote about this in my October 2 blog, but I also know he was reluctant to leave Ghana as shepherd of his flock, and especially because he wanted to see to fruition a number of programs and initiatives that he had put into place there.”
(Here is a link to Joan’s blog: http://www.ewtn.com/news/blog.asp?blog_ID=1)
A Disappointing Press conference
The press conference was an anti-climax.
Two journalists, one from the New York Times, pressed Turkson on remarks he made at the outset of the Synod about condoms and their use in the battle against the spread of AIDS,
There were few questions about the truly central issues facing Africa, which I wrote about yesterday, including the fomenting of tribal wars by foreign corporations and governments, and the general impoverishment of Africa due to corrupt governments. This allows the riches of the continent siphoned off while tens of millions languish in poverty.
I asked Turkson if he thought he might be able to help draft the type of legislation that could impede this general exploitation of Africa, and he gave a thoughtful response.
This led Father Lombardi to comment that Turkson was demonstrating that he would likely be a “good president for the Justice and Peace Council,” which has supervisory authority in the Church over all justice and peace issues in the world.
But many of the reports about the African synod have tended to ignore the real problems of Africa, and to focus only on peripheral issues like condom use against AIDS.
Why this type of reporting?
Because this reporting reflects the agendas of the owners of the great organs of information, and not the real concerns of Africa and its people today.
Most of the world’s press views the world through the distorting lens imposed by its owners. This is to be expected: owners naturally wish to spread their vision.
But this vision, often, is of a secularized, humanistic world with moral principles in opposition to many of the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
The reporting on the Synod has tended to reflect this.
I received an email on this matter today from an leading American Catholic:
You should do a comment on how the NY Times reported the final statement! They almost completely ignore what you report here [in yesterday’s newsflash] and make it seem that it [the African bishops’ final message] was a statement about environmentalism and other things….”
My comment is this: Many journalists, no matter how well-meaning they are, cannot report in a full, balanced way on events, especially regarding the Church, because their papers or television stations are owned by corporations with little interest in the full truth, but great interest in those portions of the truth which will help sway public opinion, bit by bit, in the direction of their agenda, which is not the agenda of the Church.
The influence of these media companies, because of the financial power behind them, often is greater than the influence of all other blogs, emails and newsletters combined.
For this reason, I would like to ask a favor.
A Small Request
Could you help me by sending to me the email address of another person, or persons, who might like to receive this newsflash?
I have been sending it to about 14,200 people since June. The number has hardly changed in six months. (Hundreds have dropped off, hundreds have joined.)
If I could get the number up to 30,000, it would have 100% more impact.
Would you be willing to help in this way?
Sometimes in Rome, the ordinary faithful are the ones who best communicate the sensus fidelium, the sense of the faith, which is, after all, what we are after.
Today I met three such faithful here in the space of half an hour.
Today my niece, Abigail Murray from Boston, Massachusetts (my sister Susan’s daughter), was in town.
She is staying with an Italian family in central Italy while studying Italian on a fall semester program with her American university. She is 20, the same age as my son Christopher.
After meeting Joan Lewis by chance at lunch, we went to see Sister Margherita Marchione.
Sister Margherita, who is from New Jersey, is known as the “fighting nun” because she has spent her life defending the reputation of Pope Pius XII. She is visiting Rome right now.
Sister Margherita, who has written 61 books, told us she had just seen former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti at noontime. (I wasn’t able to go along with her because of the press conference on the African Synod. Sometimes one would like to be two people in order to be in two places at the same time…)
“Are you married?’ Sister Margherita asked Abigail.
“No,” said Abigail.
“Would you like to become a nun?” she asked her. “I’m almost 88 now. I need someone to take my place.”
Abigail was non-committal.
And then Margherita spoke about her life as a nun.
She told us how she entered her order, the Maestre Pie Filipppini, a teaching order of nuns, in 1935, at the age of 13, in New Jersey.
“I’ve had a happy life,” she said to Abigail. “Very happy. And I can promise you, that if you become a nun, you will have a happy life, too.”
Abigail didn’t decide to sign up right there.
But she was so impressed that she asked if we could come back and talk to sister again. (I agreed that she could try to write a profile of Sister Margherita for a future issue of Inside the Vatican.)
Then we walked down the via delle Fornaci to the point where the Apostolic Palace comes into view, just at the underpass.
In recent years, I have come to know two simple Romans with large hearts, Claudio, who runs the La Vittoria restaurant on via delle Fornaci (this is on the Holy Office side of the Vatican, the other side from Borgo Pio) and Pina, who runs the sandwich shop next to La Vittoria. The sign outside her door says: “Here you can eat the best sandwiches in the world.”
I asked Claudio for a word of wisdom on this day.
“You want a word?” he said to me. “I’ll give you a word. Simplicity. La semplicità…”
He furrowed his brow, and gestured with his hand toward the city around us.
“Why do we chase after all that is new? New cars, new clothes, new experiences? Why don’t we recognize how content we can be with what we have? Our desires make us unhappy, and endless desires make us endlessly unhappy.”
“I myself am almost ready to leave Rome and go back to the countryside, to the mountains, to my father’s farm where I was raised, and pick up a rake and hoe and grow vegetables. Life is simpler there. All this complexity of modern life… (he gestured again at the city) is a mirage. It promises happiness, but never delivers it. I’m just about ready to go back to Campobasso…”
Then I went to see Pina.
“A word of wisdom?” I said.
Pina paused, looked at me, looked at Abigail.
“A word of widom?” she said. “Heaven and hell are here.”
“Heaven and hell are here?” I repeated.
“Yes,” she said. “Inferno e paradiso stanno qui. Heaven and hell are here.”
“And?” I said.
“What ‘and’?” she answered. “The key is love. Amore. Love, and you have everything. Without love, you have nothing…”
“I really love Italy,” Abigail said to me, as we headed off to a get-together at the home of Elizabeth Lev, the writer and tour guide who is the daughter of former US Ambassador to the Holy See, Professor Mary Ann Glendon. “It’s different here than in America. The people are different…”