12 October 1962: John XXIII's appeal to States to heed "anguished cry for peace"
By Linda Bordoni
The scores of cardinals, bishops, members of delegations, and experts who flocked to Rome in October 1962 to attend the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council were living an international political crisis that in many ways was dramatically similar to the one we live in today.
Tensions were rising in the so-called Cuban missile crisis, which originated from the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. 15 October is the date on which the US took a picture of the missile installations in Cuba confirming that the Soviets were building missile bases on the island. Pope John XXIII had already undertaken his extraordinary mediation action by starting a dialogue with the non-Catholic population of the Soviet bloc, and on the second day of the Second Ecumenical Council, he addressed representatives of Heads of States – the ambassadors accredited to the Holy See – and told them that “We, and all the heads of state who bear responsibility for the fate of nations,” must omit no effort to achieve peace.
Pope St. John XXIII went on to say that it is clear that a Council is concerned primarily with the Catholic Church, to show the Church’s vigour, to emphasize its spiritual mission, to adapt its methods so that the Gospel teaching may be worthily lived and more readily heeded by the people, and to promote a quest for unity and grace “to which so many souls aspire from all corners of the earth”.
Finally, he said, "the Council wishes to show the world how to put into practice the teaching of the divine Founder, the Prince of Peace. Whoever conforms his life to this teaching helps to establish peace and to foster true prosperity."
Harmony between nations through respect
Highlighting the duty of the Church and the moral force of Christianity to promote a message of truth, of justice, and of charity, the Pope expressed his mission to work “to establish a true peace; a peace directed toward the elevation of nations through respect for the human person and toward the procuring of a just freedom of religion and worship; a peace which nourishes harmony between nations."
The natural consequences, Pope St. John XXIII continued, “will be love for one another, brotherhood, and the end of strife between men of different races and different mentalities.”
He went on to explain that “this very peace which the Church labours to establish: by prayer, by the deep respect she has for the unfortunate, the sick, the aged, and by the spreading of her doctrine which is the doctrine of brotherly love; for men are Brothers and – We say it from a full heart – all sons of the same Father.”
Noting that the audience with “the Extraordinary Diplomatic Missions” was taking place in the Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo's vast masterpiece of the Last Judgement, the Pope said: “We must indeed render an account to God: We, and all the heads of state who bear responsibility for the fate of nations.
"In all conscience let them give ear to the anguished cry of «peace, peace,» which rises up to heaven from every part of the world, from innocent children and those grown old, from individuals and from communities.
“May this thought of the reckoning that they are to face,” he added, “spur them to omit no effort toward achieving this blessing, which for the human family is a blessing greater than any other.”
Make sacrifices to save peace
He encouraged them to continue to meet, to engage in discussion, and to reach ”just and generous agreements that they faithfully observe.”
Nations, he continued, “will then be able to work in an atmosphere of serenity. All the discoveries of science will assist progress and help to make life on this earth – already marked by so many other inevitable sufferings – ever more pleasant.”
Thus, Pope St. John XXIII pointed out that “The Council that was opened yesterday in your presence showed forth vividly the Church's universality.”
Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here