Promoting Integral Human Development Conference, Vatican City

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins (left), pictured with Sr Mary Leahy RSJ  and His Eminence Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching) Professor Anne Cummins (left), pictured with Sr Mary Leahy RSJ  and His Eminence Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

I recently had the privilege of attending the Promoting Integral Human Development Conference, in Vatican City from 3-4 April 2017.

The other Australian participant was Sr Mary Leahy RSJ who works with the Seaman’s Mission assisting people who work on ships who frequently are poorly paid and lonely.  Through the Archdiocese of Sydney, Mary provides practical support to these visitors to Sydney.  Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican, her Excellency Melissa Hitchman was also present for the first morning.  I also met with H.E. Egas Da Costa Freitas, Ambassador from Timor-Leste. Both are good friends of ACU.

This conference celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Populorum Pogressio and the foundation of the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.  This Dicastery (or Department) replaces four previous groups which lead the social action of the Church. The new Dicastery reflects Pope Francis’ desire that the human family work together to ensure that no one is left behind.  In addressing the Conference Pope Francis stated that “the human family is like an orchestra which can play a beautiful melody when all are included”.   He cautioned that globalization is denying the value of each individual and only those who can profit from it are given a voice.  He argued that we must establish authentic relationships for all members of the human family and that the family is the first place where integration is learned.  He stressed that development is not just about economic growth but must consider soul and body and lead to human fulfilment in a true understanding of the person. He said human life cannot be violated or exploited and that the Church must witness to the world that the good of the human family is our good too.

The conference themes set the agenda for the Church’s promotion of  Social Justice and Action. It reiterated the Church’s teaching on the dignity of the inalienable  human person made in the image of God,  Freedom of Religion and Conscience as a human right, the Christian understanding of suffering,  support for the Sustainable Development Goals set  at Davos, the value and needs of the family, the particular circumstances of migrant families, poverty  and the growth of economic and social inequalities, the crises of democracy: individualism versus solidarity and Migrations, a challenge or an opportunity for Peace.

Participants from around the globe spoke of their church ministries to the vulnerable. These accounts were impressive but also showed the levels of personal disadvantage and distress of the people who are faces beyond the statistics that were outlined previously.  Pope Francis has frequently said we must never lose sight of the faces of those who suffer.

As ACU moves to the next stage in its development of Community Engagement and the concept of being a global university of Mercy the conference provoked my thinking around how blessed we are to live in a peaceful country, to work in education and to have the capacity to assist those around the globe and at home who have not had those blessings.  ACU’s mission aligns with direction of the new Dicastery and its inspiration will be supportive of our efforts.  I flew to Rome thinking about the fragility of some of our students, of how we can facilitate their resilience and combat rates of self-harm and suicide.  As I listened to the commitment from people in sometimes dire circumstances I wondered if we are doing enough to engage our students in work and advocacy for justice and peace.  Christian theology (and the Vatican) talk about “bring forth the Kingdom of God”.  For most people, I don’t think that rings a bell but I do think that young people need to believe they are building a better world and we need to find ways to empower them in that.   However we come into the Church -  willingly, reluctantly, confident, distrusting, unsure, it remains a place where people gather to work for the common good. These few days showed me again that when you strip away the glitz of the Vatican the simple messages still have power for us to make a difference for others.

Professor Anne Cummins
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Learning and Teaching)

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