by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

This week’s column comes with an apology. It should have been written much earlier in this month of April which Pope Francis designated as a time of prayer for “A Culture of Peace and Nonviolence.” If this intention appeared anywhere, it ought to have been on this page. So again, heartfelt apologies.

Another reason to pray for “A Culture of Peace and Nonviolence” in April 2023 is that it marks the 60th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s epochal encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Pax Christi International co-sponsored a major conference on the theme “Pope Francis, nonviolence and the fullness of Pacem in Terris” from December 5-9, 2022 in Rome. In addition, earlier this week, Pax Christi International presented a webinar at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago on the same subject, debating the question: “Pacem in Terris at 60: Is the Catholic Church heeding the call to Gospel nonviolence?

So, some “catchup” here which may serve as background for reflections on the substance of these and other reasons for Pope Francis’s April intention.

In October 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. That same month the world witnessed with horror the Cuban missile crisis: two contrasting events which for contrasting reasons pointed to the crucial need for a Catholic word on peace. Another significant factor came into play during that fateful month as well. Reportedly, Pope John XXIII had a central role in brokering the nonviolent outcome of the crisis, serving as an intermediary between President John Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Through his efforts to convince the two leaders that nonviolence was the only way forward, the unthinkable was avoided.

One can speculate with a degree of certainty on the frame of mind which this brush with
armageddon produced in Pope John. For in addition to his providential diplomacy the pope
knew that his days were numbered. He was dying of stomach cancer.

Also, the Council, which he had envisioned as a moment for the Roman Church to “open its windows” to the 20th century world was off, to an indecisive start. After two months, its first session produced just one, minor, document: the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Reports
from Rome at that time spoke of fundamental divisions among the assembled bishops.

In the light of Pope John’s imminent demise as 1963 dawned, it shouldn’t be a stretch to think he feared that his vision for the Council might never be realized. In fact, there was speculation that the soon-to-be elected successor might cancel it entirely as an impossible undertaking. This, then, is the background for what surely came to be Pope John’s “last will and testament,” Pacem in Terris, his cry for nonviolence among peoples and nations. The encyclical was made public on April 11, 1963. Pope John died on June 3 of that year.

Almost exactly 50 years later, in 2013, entered Pope Francis. He has revived the exciting spirit of II Vatican Council and taken Pacem in Terris to a new level. This is especially evident in Francis’s insistence on nonviolence as central to the life of the Church. One dramatic example of this shift is that Francis has changed acceptance of nuclear deterrence on a limited basis in Pacem in Terris to declaring that “the very possession of nuclear weapons is to be firmly condemned.”

Like the constant development of Catholic Social Teaching in the last 132 years, placing nonviolence at the center of Gospel living is a “new grace” of the Holy Spirit. It complements another “grace” verbalized in the 1972 Synod document, Justice in the World: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us a constitutive of the preaching of the Gospel.”

There is still time in this month to join Pope Francis’s prayer for a “Culture of Nonviolence and

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

3 thoughts on “Francis takes Pacem in Terris to a new level

  1. A new level in the practice of non-violence is to recognize that in Ukraine, if the people were to practice non-violence in resisting aggression, they may have to tolerate a kind of slavery at least in the short run,- giving themselves time to organize non-violent resistance.

    1. I believe that the situation in the Ukraine is more complicated than a choice between freedom and slavery. The European nations in this region have been divided, combined, split apart, etc for centuries. If you look at old maps, Lithuania used to govern this area and more.
      We need to look at the entire picture and find diplomatic solutions here and in other conflict zones. We also need to look at the long term and identify solutions that reflect the will of the people, not the power goals of leadership.
      It is hard work, indeed, and without any guarantees, but we need to work toward ending the cycle of warfare and violently enforced solutions.

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