The Catholic University of America

April 18, 2013

Scholars Explore Effects of Pacem in Terris at 50

  Cardinal Peter Turkson
  Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, speaks about Pacem in Terris, the encyclical written by Pope John XXIII.

“Peace on earth is achieved ultimately with reference to the truth about God and the observance of his established order that includes men and women and the human world,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, at Catholic University during the Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50 conference held April 9 and 10.

Meeting at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center, Cardinal Turkson, along with other Church leaders, scholars, and policy makers, examined issues from human rights and development to nuclear disarmament and reconciliation to U.S. foreign policy, noting that Pacem in Terris is a living document that remains fresh today.

Pacem in Terris (peace on earth) was Pope John XXIII’s 1963 papal encyclical that emphasized human rights as a foundation for peace, authentic development, and a just world order.

The starting point of the encyclical, said Turkson, “is human beings, humans created by God, endowed with dignity and bearers of rights and duties. It is also the starting point for understanding the relationships among all people, with the purpose of assuring those rights for all.”

Human dignity is the key to peace, said Cardinal Turkson. He presented three guides to peace building. The first is a focus on human rights, given to people by God. “Human beings have the right to live, to bodily integrity, and to the means necessary for the proper development of life,” he said.

 Maryann Cusimano Love  
Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international politics and fellow of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, speaks about themes contained within Pacem in Terris.  

Second is to follow the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. “In its popular English version, the prayer begins with the words ‘Make me a channel of your peace,’… Counter hatred with love, despair with hope, darkness with light.”

And third is to follow the teaching of Pope Francis. “The Holy Father has noted three key characteristics of St. Francis of Assisi – love for the poor, the striving for peace for which truth is essential, and care for all of nature,” said Cardinal Turkson. “He suggests a link between peace building and bridge building. We must build bridges of true dialogue and true fraternity if we are to build peace.”

Speaking on “Solidarity and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace, noted that Pope John XXIII “championed an international order based on truth, justice, willing cooperation, and freedom. He taught that peace is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.”

   Joseph Capizzi, Marie Dennis and Gerard Powers
  At left, Joseph Capizzi, Catholic University associate professor of moral theology, makes a point during the session "Just War, Nonviolence and Peacebuilding," with Marie Dennis, Pax Christi International, and Gerard Powers, University of Notre Dame.

Pope John XXIII maintained, said Bishop Pates, that it did not make sense to continue to use war to repair a violation of justice. Pacem in Terris “has aged well,” he said. “Like a fine wine, its complex textures have matured, or perhaps it is our world that has matured so that we can better appreciate and hear the profundity and challenge of its teaching.”

Bishop Pates touched on various conflicts and disputes around the world and the need for solidarity to end such conflicts. “Solidarity teaches us that engagement, not isolation, is the way to enhance human rights.” Solidarity, he continued, “captures the essence of personal relationships and international relations and is absolutely essential as the world shrinks into one human community.”

“When Pacem in Terris was written by Blessed John XXIII, it was a revolutionary document,” said Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international politics and fellow of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, during her remarks in the concluding session on “The Way Forward.”

Pacem in Terris participants  
Audience members listen to speakers during the Pacem in Terris at 50 conference.  

“He was taking on all the ‘isms of his time: communism, fascism, racism, colonialism, corporatism, the excesses of capitalism,” she said. “He challenged all these governing institutional forms for insufficient attention to the protection, the promotion, and the defense of human life. He underlined these were not human rights given by man but given by God, and that everywhere these were imperiled, we all had to address these.”

She said that Pacem in Terris contains three themes that need further development by the Church. The first theme is human rights and promotion of the common good for the foundation for peace. While that certainly remains valid today, she said, the sources of today’s conflicts have changed.

“In 1963, the threat came from strong states, but today we see threats from weak states and non-state actors and conflicts of greed not grievance,” she said. “So while the need for governing authority that promotes the common good remains, there is a different backdrop of conflict.”

The second point, she said, is the role of women and youth, which in Pacem in Terris was discussed
in a “very miniature form,” and that today needs further discussion. Women are directly affected by violence, yet are excluded from formal peace processes “98 percent of the time, there’s not a woman at the table.”

Third is the need for new institutional structures beyond what was present in 1963, Love said. Pacem in Terris contains the beginning of a discussion on globalization. “It talks about the growing economic interdependence, the link between each country’s social progress, borders, and security,” she said. “Even at this early time, the Pope is saying that our political structures aren’t cutting it, that we have problem sets that cut across these boundaries and the political authorities can’t deal with these problems. We need new answers.”

She encouraged the peace builders to use creativity and imagination in bringing forth new paths to peace.

An affiliated graduate student conference took place on April 8 at the same location. It included presentations dealing with Pacem in Terris, the ethics and practice of peace building, and related topics in the areas of theology, ethics, and political science.

For more information about the conference, with links to speeches and videos of some of the presentations, see cpn.nd.edu and ipr.cua.edu.


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The conference was sponsored by a dozen leading Catholic institutions, universities, and organizations involved in peace and justice research, programming, and advocacy. The conference’s primary sponsor was the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, with co-sponsors Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi International, Sant’Egidio Community in the United States, Trinity Washington University, USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, University of Dayton Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, University of Notre Dame Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of St. Thomas Department of Justice and Peace Studies, and University of San Diego Joan B. Kroc School.

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