4/17/2014 3:31:00 AM

Friendship in Faith

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

By Mark Adam

As Dr. Joe Marotta ’80 drove back to the Capital Region from Mount St. Mary College last May, his friend and mentor, a jetlagged Cardinal Peter Turkson, slept in the slightly reclined passenger seat beside him. The next day, Turkson would say Mass with Bishop Howard Hubbard at St. Mary of the Angels Chapel on the Siena College campus. At some point on the New York State Thruway, Marotta suddenly realized how much responsibility he had in that moment.

“I thought to myself, ‘You know, this man might be the next pope. He’s in my car right now and I’m responsible. I slowed right down!’” Marotta said laughing.

Since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, all eyes have been on the Vatican. News reports and rumors have swirled about who will become the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. There are even gambling sites assigning odds to the most probable successor. One of the favorites is Cardinal Turkson.

Marotta met Turkson, a 64-year old priest from Ghana, in 2009 when they were introduced to each other by Fr. Kofi Ntsifal-Amissah, Marotta’s pastor at St. Joan of Arc Church in Menands, N.Y. Having never met someone so high in the Catholic Church, Marotta did not know whether he should kneel or kiss his ring. As he started to bow, Cardinal Turkson stopped him and told him to relax and call him Peter. They talked for four hours that day as they discussed Marotta’s plans to build an orthopedic hospital in Ghana as part of his new nonprofit Medicus Christi, which gives medical aid to African people. Since then, they have spent a lot of time together in the United States, Africa and Rome.

On Marotta’s first trip to Ghana in 2010, they spent two weeks together touring the countryside and hospitals. Turkson has been very supportive of Medicus Christi, helping Marotta gain access to the Cape Coast Diocese in Ghana, government officials and other influencers. There are now architectural drawings of the proposed $6.7 million hospital, appropriately named Turkson Orthopedic and Rehabilitation Center and Hospital (TORCH). Medicus Christi is fundraising and applying for grants to make the hospital a reality.

Turkson is on the Medicus Christi Board of Directors, along with Siena College President Fr. Kevin Mullen ’75, O.F.M., Ph.D., Professor of Biology Ed LaRow ’59, Ph.D. and others. In 2011, Turkson gave Marotta the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI. Marotta presented the Holy Father a letter about Medicus Christi.

Marotta considers them friends, but keeps a certain distance out of respect to the Cardinal. Still, Turkson is usually in close contact as they communicate weekly by phone or email.

“He’s such a down to Earth, approachable, personable guy, you get a little disarmed,” Marotta said.

When white smoke billows out of a chimney in the Sistine Chapel, signifying a new pope has been selected, it is possible it will be Turkson. If that happens, it will only strengthen Marotta’s mission.

“I’d like to think that all of these coincidences and paths crossing are somehow for a purpose,” Marotta said. “If Cardinal Turkson becomes the pope, I think that will further my purpose in this humanitarian work and in Medicus Christi. That’s my dream.”

Photos were taken during a Mass last May in the Saint Mary of the Angels Chapel on the Siena College Campus. 

Contact: SCIM
Contact E-mail: communications@siena.edu

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