[NOTE: The following talk was given at the Catholic Library Association Conference in Houston, Texas, on April 4, 2013.]
It is an honor to address you today on the important subject of Pacem in Terris, the encyclical written by Pope John XXIII that was published in 1963, 50 years ago.
I think we would all agree that we need more peace on earth – both in our own nation and throughout the world. The recent murder of 20 school children in Connecticut as well as the thousands of murders each year in the U.S. are indicative of the problems we have in this country. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, are indicative of the need for peace in the world.
When talking about a vision for peace, I am always drawn to the words of Isaiah in the Old Testament: “Once more there will be poured on us the spirit from above; then shall the wilderness be fertile land and fertile land become forest. In the wilderness justice will come to live and integrity in the fertile land; integrity will bring peace, justice give lasting security . My people will live in a peaceful home, in safe houses, in quiet dwellings.” (Isaiah 32: 15-18)
I think that all people would like to live in peaceful homes, in safe houses and in quiet dwellings, but we have clearly not achieved that objective. We need the Spirit of God to be poured upon us from above because we have not been able to achieve peace on our own. So I would like us to take a minute at this time to thank God for Pope John XXIII, for Pacem in Terris and for our new Pope named after St. Francis of Assisi, and to ask God to bless us with knowledge, wisdom and courage so that we can do our part to advance peace and justice in the world.
Pacem in Terris provides many insights into achieving this peace that we desperately want. First and foremost it states that peace cannot be established unless the order laid down by God is dutifully observed, an order based on truth, justice, charity and freedom. I would venture to guess that most people do not understand what this order is, much less follow it if they do understand it.
Pacem in Terris states that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and God’s laws are written on our hearts. Because of this, each human being has inherent dignity.
Pacem in Terris states that, because of our inherent dignity, all human beings have basic human rights such as the right to life, food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, social services, just wages, and the right to migrate when necessary.
Many of these rights are incorporated into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. However, the reality is that human rights are not emphasized enough in this nation or the world in general. In fact the U.S. Senate has never ratified the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, nor the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, nor several other U.N. conventions and treaties. I would encourage all of you to not only become familiar with the details of Pacem in Terris, but also to support the work of the United Nations regarding human rights.
Pacem in Terris teaches that we not only have rights, we also have duties toward our fellow men and women. Just as we have a right to life, we have a corresponding duty to preserve life. Just as we have a right to a dignified life, we have a corresponding duty to promote the welfare of others, what is often called the “common good”.
Our church promotes the common good in public discourse, but a war literally rages in our modern day politics on this issue. Just listen to the political dialogue when the Federal budget is being debated today. As Christians, we must ask ourselves, does our faith compel us to help the poor and downtrodden in our society, or are they on their own? Do we see them as our brothers and sisters, and therefore have a sense of responsibility for them, or are they thought of as strangers who have made unwise choices and are on their own to survive in society? I encourage all of you to speak out for the common good whenever you have the opportunity.
Pacem in Terris teaches that this duty to promote the common good must not only be exercised in our local communities, but also at the state and Federal levels. It is unfortunate that significant cuts in health care and education for the poor and middle class have been made in recent years as a result of corrupt practices on Wall Street. For example, two years ago in Texas, the state cut billions of dollars from its budget for public education and health care. It did this rather than dipping into the billions of dollars in its “rainy day fund” and raising taxes on rich individuals and corporations that could well afford to contribute more to “common good” of the state.
These budget cuts primarily hurt the poor, and especially our children, which is indeed unfortunate since millions of them are already living in poverty. We must do better for our children, because all the children of this nation are “our” children. Marion Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund has done a wonderful job in highlighting the problems that millions of our children face today. I highly recommend that you read her reports and books. No child should have to grow up in poverty, in an abusive and neglectful environment, with inadequate health care and limited opportunities for high quality education and meaningful work. Peace will be elusive until all our children are properly nurtured and treated with dignity and respect.
It is also true that over the past 30 years the divide between rich and the poor in this nation has grown tremendously. There are several reasons for this such as improvements in technology, the outsourcing of jobs, the demise of unions, wage stagnation, and pure greed. Whatever the reasons, it should be understood that we will not achieve peace in this nation if this trend is not reversed and greater equality is achieved. People who work hard should be paid at least a “living wage”. Not just the minimum wage, but a living wage which will allow families to properly take care and educate their children. This is a basic human right.
Pacem in Terris also points out that governments have a responsibility to promote the common good of its citizens in terms of building roads, water supply systems, public health and educational programs. These programs are also good for employment at a time when there is a need to put more people to work in our nation. But recently there has been resistance to doing so by certain elements of our society. This is not good for anyone in our nation. I believe we have a responsibility to speak up for what is right and just.
At the international level, we will not achieve peace on earth if there are wide disparities in the economic status of people around the globe. These economic disparities must be reduced, and we must be willing to reduce them even if it means sacrifice on those of us who are more fortunate. Where natural resources are scarce, they must be equally shared so that all people benefit. We must see all people as part of the human family. We need to develop a global vision.
That is why the work of the United Nations is very important. In the year 2000, world leaders came together at the United Nations to commit their countries to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty throughout the world. Among other things, they adopted the Millennium Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education and combat devastating diseases. It is important for us to be knowledgeable and supportive of these goals.
When it comes to achieving peace in the world, we must, in addition to reducing economic disparities and ensuring that all people are treated with dignity, strongly oppose war and the preparations for war.
Pacem in Terris states that the arms race must end and that nuclear weapons must be banned (#112). The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which the U.S. is a signatory, requires that all nations that have nuclear weapons progressively eliminate them. This is an international requirement which is important if we expect other nations to not develop such weapons.
It is also very important that we make stronger efforts to build mutual trust among the nations of the world and to achieve peace through negotiations. Pacem in Terris states that “by meeting and negotiating, men may come to discover better the bonds that unite them together, deriving from the human nature which they have in common; and that they also come to discover that one of the most profound requirements of their common nature is this: that between them and their respective peoples, it is not fear which should reign, but love, a love which tends to express itself in a collaboration that is loyal, , manifold in form and productive of many benefits.” (#129).
So, we have to build trust if we expect to achieve peace. When trust is developed, fear disappears and wonderful things can happen.
War should never be an acceptable solution to international disputes. As Pope John Paul II said “War is not always inevitable, it is always a defeat for humanity” (address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, January 13, 2003).
War is always a defeat for humanity. Always.
I think that solid arguments can be made that most of the wars fought by the United States in the last 50-60 years were unjust and unnecessary. If we understand that the majority of victims in modern day warfare are innocent civilians, including children, I don’t know how we can ever justify war. We can do better.
Of course, a challenge to peace in our own nation is our huge military-industrial complex where billions and billions of tax dollars are spent each year. I think that a significant portion of those dollars should go to programs of social uplift – improving our educational programs, healthcare for the poor and middle class, and improvements in infrastructure. This is difficult to achieve, however, in a nation which is, quite frankly, as militaristic as ours.
So is there any hope for Pacem in Terris? It has been 50 years since this document was published. We have been involved in three major wars during this time and violence is rampant on the streets of our cities. How do we turn the corner on this violence?
I have six recommendations.
First of all, we need to really understand God’s plan to achieve peace as outlined in Pacem in Terris. Very few people, in fact very few Catholics, understand it. It must be taught more consistently in the Church. We must hear about it from the pulpits.
Second, let us grasp more fully that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, that we all brothers and sisters and children of God. I think to a great extent this can only be achieved through prayer supplemented by experience. Let us make prayer a bigger part of our daily life, and let us make a bigger effort to reach out to people who are different from us – people of different religions, races, ethnicities and economic status. Even people in prison. Only then we can understand the inherent dignity of all people and the gifts of other peoples and cultures. Only then can we build the trust that is needed to dispel fear and create a new world free of racism, prejudice and bigotry.
Third, let us give greater emphasis to human rights in our society and throughout the world. We hear very little about human rights these days. Very few people are aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the other conventions and treaties published by the United Nations. Some people are actually quite critical of those who work for human rights, just as they are critical of those who work for peace and justice. This is wrong. Human rights need to be promoted more strongly in our schools, our churches and our government.
Fourth, let us strengthen our resolve to promote the common good of all people in our society and throughout the world, particularly our children. We must strongly resist those voices that say that government has no role in working for the common good, that everyone is on their own.
Fifth, let us resist the warmongers in our society and the huge military-industrial complex they espouse and use our valuable resources for social uplift. Let us remember the words of the prophet Isaiah who said, “They shall beat their swords into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4).
Finally, let us commit to using the vast resources of this country to help people in other nations that are less fortunate than ourselves. The concept of the “common good” applies to all people throughout the world. Let us support the work of the United Nations in its effort to create a more just and peaceful world.
Let us follow the example of Jesus and St. Francis and dedicate ourselves to peace. “Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. And where there is sadness, joy.”
Let us learn how to make peace, not war.
I would like to finish today by paraphrasing two powerful statements as well as a beautiful prayer from Pacem in Terris:
“Peace will be an empty-sounding word unless it is …. founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom.” (#167)
“Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of hope, a vivifying leaven amidst their fellowmen and women: and they will be able to do this all the more perfectly the more closely they live in communion with God and in the intimacy of their souls.” (#164)
And the prayer:
“May God banish from the hearts of all people whatever might endanger peace, may God transform them into witnesses of truth, justice and brotherly and sisterly love. May God enlighten the rulers of all people so that they……may defend the great gift of peace; may God enkindle the wills of all so that they may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others and pardon those who have done them wrong ….may all people of the earth become as brothers and sisters and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always among them.” (#171)