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Tuesday, 7 October 2003


I am pleased to welcome you in the name of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and I would like to thank in a special way the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, not only for the hospitality which he extended to us this afternoon, but above all for his presence, as well as for his kind words and generous support offered on the occasion of our commemoration of the Encyclical Pacem in Terris.

I would like to begin with a question:  why is it that, at the time of its publication on April 11, 1963, this Encyclical generated so much interest?

There is no one answer. Above all, we need to take into account the unique personality of Pope John XXIII, a man of dialogue and generous heart, who was more interested in the human person than in the errors he might commit (N. 158). Then, there is the fact that the Encyclical was addressed not only to the sons and daughters of the Church, but "to all Men of Good Will".

Finally, this Encyclical is considered to be the last will and testament of Pope John XXIII, who was to die less than two months after its publication.

If we consider the historical context of the Encyclical, we will note that the element which most influenced public opinion was the Pope's passionate defense of peace based upon a natural vision of creation, namely taking man and the world as they are. The Encyclical, in fact, defends the natural rights of the human person and expresses the longings of all men and women, without distinction of faith or conviction.

It is interesting to note the "signs of the times" which the Pope lists:  the progressive improvement in the economic and social condition of the working class (N. 40); the part that women are now playing in political life all around the globe (N. 41); the independence of former colonies (N. 42); the incorporation and guarantee of political and civil rights in individual Constitutions (N. 69); the conviction that controversies between peoples must be resolved not by recourse to arms, but by dialogue and negotiation (N. 113); esteem for the United Nations, as a most appropriate instrument for the protection of the rights and freedoms of peoples, and which is viewed as the first juridical-political cell of the international community (N. 137).

All of this is intended to say to men and women of good will:  Yes, peace is possible!
In 1963, this affirmation, born of a great conviction, might have almost appeared as a provocation. The scars of the Second World War had not yet completely healed; the Berlin Wall divided Europe; Czechoslovakia experienced a military invasion; there was repression in Hungary; the Cuban missile crisis and the Chinese-Indian conflict upset the strategic balance in the world; the arms race was in high gear; and the Church was suffering ferocious persecutions.

The contrast between the situation in the world at that time and the voice of this man of peace was most evident. The impact of this Encyclical can be gleaned from an editorial comment in The Washington Post:  "(The Encyclical) is not just the voice of an old priest, nor just that of an ancient Church; it is the voice of the conscience of the world".

It is not my intention to offer a detailed exegesis of the text of the Encyclical, but rather to highlight three key concepts or foundations of Pacem in Terris:  (1) the human person; (2) law; and (3) faith.

1. The human person

For Pope John XXIII, all men and women are members of the one human family and depend on an order established by God. He writes: "... each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature, that is, endowed with intelligence and free will. As such, he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and therefore altogether inalienable" (N. 9). Further on Pope John XXIII will specify the following rights: 

- the right to live and to the means necessary for the proper development of life;
- rights pertaining to moral and cultural values;
- the right to religious freedom;
- the right to choose freely one's state in life;
- economic rights;
- the right of meeting and association;
- the right to emigrate and immigrate;
- political rights.

To each of these rights correspond certain duties that are based upon a sense of responsibility and conviction in man, rather than on coercion or enticement. The Pope clearly states, "There is nothing human about a society welded together by force" (N. 34).

It is interesting to note that four-fifths of the text of the Encyclical is dedicated to an enunciation of these rights and duties. It can, therefore, be considered a text on international ethics. For the Pope, the international order, based upon rights and duties, corresponds to that order inscribed by God himself in the very nature of man. It is precisely this point that the first sentence of the Encyclical wants to underscore: "Peace on Earth - which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after - can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order" (N. 1).

2. Law

For the Pope, the attainment of the common good is the purpose of the Public Authority. We read, in N. 53, the following assertion: "Men, both as individuals and as intermediate groups, are required to make their own specific contributions to the general welfare. The main consequence of this is that they must harmonize their own interests with the needs of others, and offer their goods and services as their rulers shall direct - assuming, of course, that justice is maintained and the authorities are acting within the limits of their competence". From this it follows that "One of the principal duties of any government... is the suitable and adequate superintendence and co-ordination of men's respective rights in society. This must be done in such a way (1) that the exercise of their rights by certain citizens does not obstruct other citizens in the exercise of theirs; (2) that the individual, standing upon his own rights, does not impede others in the performance of their duties; (3) that the rights of all be effectively safeguarded, and completely restored if they have been violated" (N. 62).

The Pope speaks of a juridical order which is in harmony with the moral order and, after having underscored the need for harmonious relations between public authority's two forms of intervention, he is pleased to note that in the juridical organization of States, legislative texts clearly speak of the fundamental rights of man, the democratic way of designating those responsible for the res publica, the conditions for favoring harmonious relations between citizens and the public authority. And he does not hesitate to affirm that all of this is to be equally applied to the realm of international relations, for which the common good rests upon a respect for the moral order.

Also in the international realm the relations between States are to be governed in truth, without racism, with respect for the equality of all persons and of all races (Nos. 80-85), according to the demands of justice. "Each (State)... has the right to exist, to develop, and to possess the necessary means and accept a primary responsibility for its own development" (N. 86). In case of controversy, there can never be recourse to force, but mutual understanding and an equitable reconciliation of opposing views shall always prevail (N. 93).

Peace, therefore, will never be the result of force, especially on the part of those who are more powerful. The Encyclical goes on to speak of the spiral of the arms race, intent on maintaining a balance of powers based on fear, one of the major causes of stockpiling of armaments (Nos. 109-111). It denounces the nightmare of a nuclear war and expresses concern over the "serious danger for various forms of life on earth" (N. 111) when nuclear devices are tested for various proposes. Complete disarmament, therefore, becomes a necessity which justice, wisdom and humanity demand for the future of the human family.

But for the Pope, peace is not just an absence of war; it is, rather, a question of justice. John XXIII desires a world where there will no longer be "dominators and dominated" (cf. N. 43). He is obviously referring here to the problem of poverty and the abyss which separates the rich from the poor.

At this point, it is worthwhile to recall the famous four pillars on which peace rests:  truth, justice, charity and freedom (cf. N. 38). Man can, indeed must, work for peace; this task becomes a reality when he has the courage to construct a society based upon truth as its foundation, upon justice as its rule of life, upon charity as its driving force and upon freedom as its general climate.

Obviously, the construction of such a peaceful and just society requires cooperation between all men and women of good will. Here, in this United Nations Organization, Chapter IV of the Encyclical acquires a unique importance:  it is dedicated to "the relationship of men and of political communities with the world community" (Nos. 130-145).

For the Pontiff, "no State can fittingly pursue its own interests in isolation from the rest, nor, under such circumstances, can it develop as it should" (N. 131). There exists a universal common good (N. 132), and, in this regard, the Pope indicates what the United Nations can do. It has "the special aim of maintaining and strengthening peace between nations, and of encouraging and assisting friendly relations between them, based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and extensive cooperation in every field of human endeavor" (N. 142).

Pope John XXIII even makes reference to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1948. Even if reservations could be justified on some individual points, the Document "should be considered a step in the right direction, an approach toward the establishment of a juridical and political ordering of the world community" (N. 144). And he explains the reason for this:  to recognize the solemn dignity of each and every human person; to assert everyone's right to be free to seek out the truth; to follow moral principles; to discharge duties imposed by justice; to lead a fully human life.

3. Faith

For Pope John XXIII, religion is essential to the culture of peace. An openness to God, the teaching of universal brotherhood and an invitation to solidarity are presages of peace, given that they all have a community dimension.

For Christianity, in particular, faith is like a beacon which illumines and charity fires with enthusiasm for a cause (cf. N. 147). For the Pontiff, the world mirrors, or should mirror, the order established by God. "That a marvelous order predominates in the world of living beings and in the forces of nature, is the plain lesson which the progress of modern research and the discoveries of technology teach us" (N. 2). In fact, it is an error to believe, as N. 6 affirms, that "the laws which govern man's relations with the State are the same as those which regulate the blind elemental forces of the universe. But it is not so; the laws which govern men are quite different. The Father of the universe has inscribed them in man's nature, and that is where we must look for them; there and nowhere else".

In the last part of the Encyclical containing some pastoral exhortations (Nos. 146-162), the Pope underlines the necessity for Catholics to participate actively in public life and deplores certain deficiencies of the political culture of Christians: "We exhort Our sons to take an active part in public life, and to work together for the benefit of the whole human race, as well as for their own political communities. It is vitally necessary for them to endeavor, in the light of Christian faith, and with love as their guide, to ensure that every institution, whether economic, social, cultural or political, be such as not to obstruct but rather to facilitate man's self-betterment, both in the natural and in the supernatural order" (N. 146). Later on, he observes that all this is equally valid for the followers of other religions and for non-believers (N. 157).

Cooperation between believers and non-believers on the political level is based upon the principle that "it is perfectly justifiable to distinguish between error as such and the person who falls into error.... A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity and that is something that must always be taken into account" (N. 158). Such cooperation can even be for non-believers an "occasion or even the incentive for their conversion to the truth" (ibidem).

Behind these rich pastoral suggestions is the vast diplomatic experience of Archbishop Roncalli, who always refused to accept the dialectic friend-enemy, near-far, in-out, heretic-faithful which, for many centuries has lead, and even today leads, to a never-ending cycle of repression and violence. Obviously, for a Christian, this perverse logic is replaced by the leaven of universal brotherhood as proclaimed by the Gospel of Christ.

* * *

For almost 13 years, I have had the privilege of collaborating closely with Pope John Paul II in his ministry in favor of peace. I have always sensed in him a desire to form politicians, world leaders and citizens in the ways of peace.

The major international crises, past and present, have all demonstrated that man is tempted, even today, to resort to violence in order to resolve controversies. The Holy See has always questioned and refuted this kind of logic - through the annual celebration of the World Day of Peace and other extraordinary events such as the Days of Prayer in Assisi, as well as with more concrete initiatives, including its involvement in the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and in the Middle East.

To listen, to dialogue, to negotiate, to respect law, to work for peace: this is the dynamic which is required! This is the legacy left to us by the Encyclical Pacem in Terris!

When men and women and peoples have the courage to face each other honestly and frankly, to listen to each other, to understand the worries of one another, then peace becomes a reality. The earth becomes a more human and livable place.

Even today the words once spoken by a predecessor of John XXIII echo powerfully. On August 24, 1939, the eve of World War II, Pope Pius XII did not hesitate to say: "The danger is imminent, but there is still time; nothing is lost with peace; all can be lost with war". This prophetic cry inspired his successor, Pope John XXIII, to propose anew the same message in the historical context of his age. In our day as well, those words still remain a clarion and prophetic call.

Thank you!