Wednesday, May 1, 2013

'Pacem in Terris': fifty years later

by Juan Masiá (English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 30, 2013

On April 11th, half a century had passed since the salvo to consciences given by Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris.

The Good Pope John asked for peace among all peoples, founded on truth, justice, love, and freedom. The letter, which was addressed by the Pope to all men and women of good will, endorsed the language of human rights, joining it with the gospel message of divine sonship and the universal brotherhood and equality of humankind. He emphasized that peace is achieved through justice, love, freedom and solidarity; that it is frustrated by rearmament and the deceptive dissemination of hatred and division. He was several decades ahead in emphasizing the necessity of combining respect for the individual and the demands of the common good in an era of globalization of the social question.

The transition to democracy still hadn't come to Spain in those days. There were priests who were called to render account at the police station for having preached the contents of the encyclical during their masses. Later, in his Memorias, the former minister López Rodó acknowledged that the fundamental laws of the country needed to be revised in accordance with Pacem in Terris' guidelines on human rights.

John XXIII, who had mediated to prevent the Soviet missile crisis in Cuba from unleashing a worldwide nuclear conflict the previous year, received Khrushchev's daughter and the son-in-law in an audience. But those surrounding him in the Curia frowned upon John's openness to dialogue and the official Vatican newspaper kept the meeting silent. Most of the Spanish bishops participating in the Council at that time represented the stance of national Catholicism and disagreed with the document on religious freedom, which reflected and expanded the emphasis of Pacem in Terris on the defense of human dignity.

Against those who insisted on the slogan that "error has no rights", the encyclical corrected: we must distinguish between the error and the person. The one who is wrong is not deprived of his dignity as a person, which always demands to be respected. This applies both to those who advocate positions that we consider wrong and to those who do not share our religious beliefs. The Declaration on Religious Freedom and the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, from the Second Vatican Council, enshrined this Christian and human attitude, a pillar of democratic coexistence.

Meeting with Pope Francis on April 8th to exchange views on the conflict in the Korean peninsula, Ban Ki-moon asked the current Pontiff for moral leadership in favor of world peace. Pope Francis, who had called for peace on Easter while praying for a peaceful solution in Korea, Syria and other conflict zones, united himself with the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to promote reconciliation among peoples.

But history repeats itself and it's hard to overcome the temptation to be pessimistic when we recall the calls for peace that were sadly frustrated. At the time of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV, who called on the political leaders to solve the conflict diplomatically, was criticized by the French and the Germans, accused by both sides of favoring the opponent. In his 1965 visit to the United Nations, Paul VI strongly appealed, "Never again, never again war", but his cry didn't make an impact on President Johnson to cease the cruel bombing of the civilian population in Vietnam. In 1991, President Bush (the father) turned a deaf ear to John Paul II's "no" to war, as Bush (the son) refused to listen to him when the "Azores trio"* were planning the unjust preventive intervention in Iraq.

Neither the persuasiveness of a political leader or the moral weight of a religious leader are sufficient to stop what John XXIII called "irrational madness of war" if the conscientized citizenship doesn't rise up from below to unite over and above the differences and, as in Berlin in 1989, tear down the barriers that should never have been built. Today Gaza or Seoul are just emblematic walls among the many that remain to be dismantled to achieve a world without borders.

*Translator's Note: "Trío de las Azores" ("Azores Trio") was an expression used by the Spanish media during the Iraq war to refer to Pres. George W. Bush (USA), Prime Minister Tony Blair (UK) and Pres. José María Aznar (Spain).

Photo: Pope John XXIII signs "Pacem in Terris".

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