“Do not be afraid of the poor”


These were the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, an African, to the UN on the millennium development goals. The Cardinal was sent as a special envoy and shows that he knows his stuff. Extremely well versed and up to date on current issues of the MDG’s, he spoke well on economics and challenged the UN on important issues, while praising others. Some of the highlights:

  • Philosophy: Such local ownership constitutes a new phenomenon, which has succeeded, almost spontaneously, in combining the most modern technology with so-called “appropriate” and “intermediate technology” thus giving life to the expression “small is beautiful.” Indeed, this reality was predicted many years ago by economists such as Ernest Friedrich Schumacher, and strongly inspired by the Encyclicals Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII and Mater et Magister of John XXIII (cf. also Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, n. 72).
  • Ethics: For all these reasons, any attempt to use the MDGs to spread and impose egoistic lifestyles or, worse still, population policies as a cheap means to reduce the number of poor people, would be malevolent and short-sighted. I say this, not just as a religious leader, but also as an African and a man coming from a poor family. I urge the international community not to be afraid of the poor. MDGs should be used to fight poverty and not to eliminate the poor!… he Holy See reaffirms its conviction that great benefits will accrue to all men and women now living in poverty, only if the MDGs are understood and pursued in harmony with objective moral standards and human nature (cf. Caritas in Veritate, nos. 44, 68- 70 and 75).
  • Spirituality: “the causes of underdevelopment are not primarily of the material order… he Family of Nations has committed itself to fighting material poverty. This is a key and noble goal to pursue; but in this effort let us never forget that material poverty has partners—relational, emotional, and spiritual poverty. The human person must be at the centre of concern in our quest for development.”
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4 thoughts on ““Do not be afraid of the poor”

  1. Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. It is certainly impressive analysis in its synthesis of information and concepts, especially when commenting on such politically loaded issues.

    Here’s another part of the discourse, which I think is worth noting:

    “Reverence for human life, from conception until natural death, and respect for the capacity of men and women to live upstanding moral lives, affirms their personal transcendence, even if they live in poverty.”

    Though it may seem I underline this passage because of its reference to “life issues,” a subject that is undoubtedly central to any discussion on poverty, I was more struck by its emphasis on “the respect of men and women to live upstanding moral lives.” That expectation, that of morality, speaks of the tremendous dignity and calling of the human person. And, that the Church speaks of respecting the right of the human person to assume the grandeur of his/her calling is a healthy tonic in the face of a nihilistic social policies that expect nothing of the person in his/her freedom. Rather than regulate people so that they don’t hurt another, and minimize the impact of potential human disaster, a call to live upright lives, while challenging, is by far the most realistic attempt at any positive social change.

    • Good point. The persistent call to individual transformation and the living of moral lives reveals an entirely different approach, and belief, in truly changing the world. I was impressed with the intellectual caliber of the speech, maybe he should be made permanent representative to the UN. An African who can speak from experience of his home land with this intellectual and spiritual level may make a significant impact.

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