Saints Popes John XXIII and John Paul II prophetically raised their voices on behalf of the suffering masses. They spoke truth to power, and challenged all of us to advance the kingdom of God – a kingdom of love, justice and peace.
St. John XXIII, affectionately known as “Good Pope John,” was expected to be a “caretaker pope” – someone who wouldn’t make any waves.
But he would have none of that.
In addition to his monumental decision to convene the Catholic Church’s 21st ecumenical council – Vatican II, in 1961 he penned the powerful and controversial encyclical Mater et Magistra (“Christianity and Social Progress”).
There St. John XXIII wrote that the economy “has become harsh, cruel, and relentless in frightful measure.” And that “even public authorities were serving the interests of more wealthy men. …”
To those who wrongly insist governments should leave the economy alone and let the “free market” correct itself, Saint John XXIII wrote that “Civil authority should resume its function and not overlook any of the community’s interests.” And “on a world-wide scale, governments should seek the economic good of all peoples.”
Then in 1963, just months after the Cuban missile crisis ended, he authored an even more powerful and controversial encyclical: Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”).
Mindful of humanity’s recent close brush with nuclear war, and the devastation conventional wars cause, he wrote “Justice, then, right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease, that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned, that nuclear weapons should be banned, and finally that all come to an agreement on a fitting program of disarmament, employing mutual and effective controls.”
If only the world would listen to this saint.
“John Paul the Great” – as many of us admiringly refer to St. John Paul II – was bigger than life!
He took the Good News of the nonviolent Jesus to the far corners of the earth, boldly defending the vulnerable and poor.
Early in his papacy in 1979, I remember hearing in Washington, D.C. – along with 700,000 others – these challenging words: “We will stand up every time that human life is threatened. When the sacredness of life before birth is attacked, we will stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life!”
But St. John Paul was equally committed to protecting born life as well.
Again in 1979, in New York City he proclaimed, “The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. Take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. Treat them like guests at your family table.”
Confronting the world’s addiction to the violence of war he said, “War is a defeat for humanity.”
In his Jan. 1, 2005 World Day of Peace message he wrote, “Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings.”
In his powerful encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“The Social Concerns of the Church”), St. John Paul beautifully summed up all of Catholic social teaching in one clear sentence: “We are all really responsible for all.”
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.