April 11 marks the 50th anniversary of Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), the groundbreaking encyclical on human rights and global governance written by Pope John XXIII. For journalists who might mark this landmark in the history of Catholic Social Teaching, there are several resources to help get to the crux of the papal document, including a concise summary and a comprehensive bibliography.
ESSAY IN AMERICA MAGAZINE
As noted by Fr. Drew Christensen, S.J., in his recent essay in America magazine, Pacem in Terris was a message of peace “born in the mind of Blessed John XXIII in the fall of 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, when he served as a back channel between President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, urging dialogue to end the most dangerous confrontation of the cold war.”
In urging peace between the two superpowers of that time, Christensen writes, Pope John “rejected the generally held notion of mutually assured destruction—that a balance of arms ensured peace among nations—arguing instead that ‘the solid peace of nations consists…in mutual trust alone.’”
The Catholic Church in the U.S. is marking the anniversary with several conferences and symposia, bringing together the leaders in theology, Catholic social thought and peacebuilding.
In Washington D.C., the Catholic University of America will host an event on April 9 and 10, Peacebuilding 2013: Pacem in Terris at 50, sponsored by the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, Catholic Relief Services and several other organizations. Speakers will include Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Dr. Carolyn Woo, president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference Committee on International Justice and Peace. Other conferences will be held at Georgetown University, Loyola University of Chicago and Xavier University.
REACTIONS TO PACEM IN TERRIS
Finally, it is interesting to recall 50 years later the reaction to Pope John’s vision of peace. Gerald Darring of Springhill College, a Jesuit institution in Mobile, Alabama, has collected some of the contemporary comment. Among the reactions:
New York Times (April, 1963): “John XXIII’s basic doctrine is that the common humanity which binds all men and all nations is more important than the doctrinal or racial differences which divide them. On these premises, he calls for an end to the arms race, for disarmament under effective control, and for voluntary acceptance by all nations of a world law…. It will not be easy to realize this program in a world riddled by suspicions, jealousies and hatreds. But it can be done if the leaders of the world follow the Pope’s example and rise above national and doctrinal hatreds that lead only to disaster.”
Life magazine (April, 1963) 4. “John XXIII has been called a ‘socialist Pope’ and his diplomacy has been marked by a series of overtures toward the Communist world…. In line with this diplomatic ‘opening to the East,’ the new encyclical makes some surprising verbal overtures…. Small wonder that Pope John has been accused of overoptimism, even ‘softness’ toward Communism; and his critics will not be mollified by other ‘leftish’ pronouncements in the new encyclical, including its favorable references to government welfare services, full employment, complete racial equality, the U.N., disarmament, and even the need for world government.”
America magazine (April 1963): “Its abiding importance will prove to be something more than specific programs or policies. Ultimately, the encyclical’s true greatness may be seen to consist in this, that it gave voice in our day to all mankind’s authentic aspiration for lasting peace in a world order based on justice, truth, charity and freedom.”
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Catholic Relief Services Communications