Dicastery for human development, Pope himself will be in charge of migrants

Posted on Aug 31, 2016

A new social dicastery has been established and is to be headed by Cardinal Turkson. At the moment, Francis is taking charge himself of migration, thus underlining the importance of this emergency

AP/LAPRESSE

by Andrea Tornielli, Vatican City, August 31, 2016

The new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development”, which merges a number of pontifical councils, was established today. For the moment, however, Francis has decided that he will be personally in charge of the department dedicated to migrants and refugees. His choice comes as a response to the current crisis in this field. It is a way to highlight the importance of this issue and to show the Pope’s personal commitment. The Bishop of Rome will only hold direct responsibility “ad tempus”, in other words, temporarily. Bergoglio will have two deputies who will answer directly to him. So, although the merger involves the current Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant People – until today headed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò – becoming one of the sections of the new dicastery, its importance has been highlighted even more by today’s decision, which sees the Pope himself acting as its special ambassador.

As is known, the initiatives Francis has carried through in the migration field during his pontificate have been numerous: his first visit outside Rome in July 2013 was to Lampedusa. The Pope was shocked and moved by the news reports about the sinking ships in the Mediterranean and all the women and children who died and are now buried at the bottom of the sea. As the phenomenon ballooned due to the conflict in Syria, Bergoglio invited each parish to take in a family of refugees. On 16 April 2016, Francis decided to show his solidarity with refugees, by visiting Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, along with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew and the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos. On the return journey to Rome, he surprised everyone by taking 12 refugees back with him on board the papal plane.

Francis has nominated Ghanaian cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson as head of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development”. Until today, the cardinal served as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which was also due to become part of the new single structure. The C9, the Council of Cardinals assisting the Pope with Curia reform and the government of the universal Church delivered the final proposal for this dicastery to the Pope last June. Until then, it was referred to by its working title “Charity, Justice and Peace”. In addition to the two pontifical councils already mentioned (those for migrants and justice and peace), the new dicastery will also incorporate Cor Unum and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.

The new body will be operative as of this coming January 1st. Paragraph 4 of the first article of the dicastery’s statute, mentions the unprecedented duty the Pope has taken on. It is a first in the history of the Holy See. “One of the dicastery’s sections deals specifically with issues relating to refugees and migrants. This section will be under the ad tempus leadership of the Supreme Pontiff, who will exercise this role in the ways which he deems fit.”

The new dicastery’s statute says that “it deals with the Holy See’s concerns in relation to justice and peace, including questions relating to migration, health, charity works and care for creation”. It also “promotes integral human development in the light of the Gospel and in keeping with the Church’s social doctrine”.

“The dicastery,” the statute goes on to say, “expresses the Pope’s concerns about our suffering humanity, including the poor, the sick and the outcasts and is attentive to issues relating to the needs of those who were forced to abandon their homelands, the marginalised, victims of armed conflict and natural catastrophes, prisoners, the unemployed and victims of modern forms of slavery and torture and other people whose dignity is at risk.”

One important piece of news is that the posts of secretary and under-secretary of the new dicastery could be held by laypeople (article 2 of the statute). As part of its activities, the dicastery will be able to engage with “associations, institutes and NGOs, even outside the Catholic Church, that are active in promoting justice and peace” and conversing “with representatives of civil governments and other public international law figures”. The new dicastery will work in close collaboration with the Secretariat of State which is responsible for relations with States.

The Commission for charity, the Commission for the environment and the Commission for healthcare workers are to be established within the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The structure will also be in charge of Caritas Internationalis.

In the motu proprio which accompanies the statute, the Pope writes: “In all her being and actions, the Church is called to promote the integral development of the human person in the light of the Gospel. This development takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation. The Successor of the Apostle Peter, in his work of affirming these values, is continuously adapting the institutions which collaborate with him, so that they may better meet the needs of the men and women whom they are called to serve.” This is key to interpreting Curia reform as a whole.

Finally, as C9 secretary Bishop Marcello Semeraro explained to Vatican Insider, the name the Pope chose for the new dicastery includes references to integral (mentioned in Francis’ “Laudato Si’” encyclical) human (a reference to “Caritas in Veritate”) development (mentioned in Paul VI’s “Populorum progressio”).