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St. Pope John XXIII: Pacem in terris

Jun 23, 2015

Social Doctrine

St. Pope John XXIII: Pacem in terris

Nineteen-sixty three – the height of the Cold War.   The world has just come through the terrifying days of the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 14-28, 1962).  The Doomsday Clock, which had been ticking since the beginning of the nuclear age was set at 12 minutes before midnight.  The Soviet Union and the United States were prepared to annihilate one another, as both sides increased their arsenals of nuclear warheads in a misguided belief that deterrence was a logical response to threats by the other state.

It is in this climate that John XXIII promulgated his encyclical, Pacem in terris (Pease on Earth).  Four themes stand out in this encyclical:  individual rights, authority and conscience, disarmament, and the development of the common good.

The encyclicals that we have covered in this column thus far in this column have all promoted the dignity of the human person and the common good of all individuals, seeing them as foundational to Catholic Social Doctrine.  These themes are once again cited as the basis for the promotion of peace on earth.  St. John very beautifully describes human dignity.  “If we look upon the dignity of the human person in the light of divinely revealed truth, we cannot help but esteem it far more highly; for men and women are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, they are by grace the children and friends of God and heirs of eternal glory.”  Catholic teaching tells us that our God is love and in response to that love, we need to love God through the love and care for our neighbor.  Nuclear proliferation is not a product of love, but a product of fear and the hatred that often comes out of the distrust of the other.

Let us follow the words of John XXIII, “…we have the duty to expend all our energies in an effort to protect and strengthen the gift of peace.  However, peace will be but an empyy-sounding word unless it is founded on the order which this present document has outlined in confident hope: an order founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity and put into practice in freedom.”

*Today the “Doomsday Clock” sits at 3 minutes before midnight.  The reasons?  Continued lack of global political action to address global climate change, the modernization of nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia, and the problem of nuclear waste.