Reprinted below an interview with His Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson by the Vatican expert Gerard O´Connell, which appeared on vaticaninsider.lastampa.it, on Sunday, 21 October.
In an exclusive interview, the Cardinal regrets showing a controversial video to the synod and explains his rationale for doing so.
“For me to attack Islam would be to attack my own family. I come from a family which has an Islamic component. My paternal uncle was a Muslim and he took care of me when I was a boy, and when he grew old I took care of him until he died”.
With these words Cardinal Peter Turkson responded to those who accused him of encouraging or supporting anti-Islamic sentiment by showing a YouTube video on “Muslim Demographics” to the synod fathers on Saturday evening, October 13.
“The point was not to be anti-Islam. Absolutely not! The point was to highlight the demographic situation as a result of the anti-life tendency and culture in the Western world where, as I see it, there is a great need to apply the values of the Kingdom of God and of the Gospel to the social order”, the 64-year old Ghanaian cardinal told me.
In an exclusive interview in his Vatican office, October 16, he said he regretted showing the controversial video. “I showed the video to illustrate this reality in the Western world and to emphasize that if we do not evangelize the social order, it is capable of giving rise to all kinds of problems for society.”
After the animated debate following the video’s projection, the cardinal recognizes that others viewed that documentary differently to him. Up to then he said, “I had never viewed that video in the anti-Islamic optic with which so many others have viewed it.” He believes this divergence in perception is due to his personal background.
“From my own personal experience I cannot have such anti-Islamic fears, nor can I ever buy into anti-Islamic propaganda or scaremongering. I come from a family that has an Islamic component. My paternal uncle was a Muslim. We lived together; we don’t have any trace of fear of Islam in my family. My mother was a Methodist, my father a Catholic. This is the inter-religious family and context in which I grew up”, he said.
He showed the video at the synod, he said, to press home a point he had made earlier that day when he addressed the gathering as President of the Council for Justice and Peace. In that speech, he presented the Church’s Social Teaching as “a useful tool for evangelization” and requested that the Compendium of the Church’s Social Teaching be put on the Vatican’s website alongside the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and that a future synod be held on evangelizing the social order.
He used the video to emphasize more forcefully that second point, namely “the need for evangelizing the social order, especially in relation to the anti-life culture, the culture of death that we find in the West and which is now being exported to Africa and other parts of the world as –to quote Pope Benedict - ‘a toxic spiritual refuse which contaminates’.”
He felt the first part of the video brought out this point well by highlighting the falling birthrate across Western Europe as a result of this “anti-life culture” and the consequences it brings, even if he now admits the figures may not be accurate.
But, he insisted, no one denies that the birthrate has fallen dramatically low in Europe with serious consequences for the whole of society. It was this point that he wished to bring to the synod’s attention, together with the need to evangelize the social order in the West, so as to change its anti-life culture.
Some synod participants questioned the wisdom of showing the video, also because of its anti-Islamic slant. Cardinal Turkson said he now wishes he had not shown it. “I understand that I chose the wrong video to stress the point of my concern.”
Last Monday evening, the Cardinal apologized to the synod fathers for showing the video, and for whatever distress it may have caused them. At the same time he hopes his central point will not get lost, namely, the need to evangelize the social order.
The interview in ARABIC