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A Champion of Human Dignity: Cardinal Turkson Praises Campus Culture

Cardinal Turkson
Cardinal Turkson
Friday, September 22, 2017

Throughout his address at St. John’s University’s 2017 Commencement Exercises, His Eminence Peter Kodwo Appiah Cardinal Turkson invoked love’s power to combat inequities around the world—including the growing scourge of homelessness.

“Love is an extraordinary force,” he said, “which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”

Born in Ghana, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1975, Cardinal Turkson has earned an international reputation as a tireless advocate of those in need. Recognizing this commitment, Pope Francis named him Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The new Vatican department, which was launched on January 1, 2017, combines the tasks of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, Healthcare Workers, and Cor Unum—the Papal charity providing humanitarian aid.

Addressing the University’s new graduates at the Queens campus on Sunday, May 21, Cardinal Turkson spoke of the value of a St. John’s education—and the importance of applying that knowledge on behalf of those in need. In addition to serving as keynote speaker, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. 

Cardinal Turkson also spoke about homelessness in a subsequent appearance on Sharing Knowledge: Presented by St. John’s University, a Telecare Television series hosted by Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s. During his television interview, Cardinal Turkson highlighted and commended the service activities in which St. John’s students engage—including the “Midnight Run” program, which brings food and clothing to the homeless on the streets of New York City.

At Commencement, Cardinal Turkson noted that many consider St. Vincent de Paul the greatest reformer of charity in the history of the Catholic Church. “He bequeathed this life as his spiritual legacy to the Vincentian religious family and their missions,” he said. “Here, on this campus, it is the culture that has nurtured excellence and continues to cut, shape, and polish all who come here for formation into gems—gems of love and truth, gems of respect that open eyes to opportunities for rendering excellent service.”

The causes of homelessness around the world are many and varied, Cardinal Turkson observed. He cited a 2015 report by Habitat for Humanity, estimating that about a quarter of the world population suffers from inadequate housing. “Even in the United States,” he said, “the figures are alarming. A recent study noted that over half a million people were living in this great and good nation on the streets.”

Adequate shelter is a basic human right, the Cardinal maintained. He echoed the words of Pope Francis, who declared that there is no moral justification for a lack of housing. “A house is much more than a roof over one’s head,” said Cardinal Turkson. “It is a place where a person creates and lives out one’s life.”

“At St. John’s University, you have been endowed with the truth: that every human person is endowed with dignity in the image and likeness of God,” Cardinal Turkson said. “Your eyes have been opened to recognizing opportunities for rendering excellent service to everyone who comes your way.”