Pope St John XXIII Pope St John XXIII  Editorial

A timely but neglected encyclical

Sixty years after its publication, John XXIII's "Pacem in terris" retains a strong relevance in the world of piecemeal warfare that fails to "disarm the heart."

By Andrea Tornielli

“Men nowadays are becoming more and more convinced that any disputes which may arise between nations must be resolved by negotiation and agreement, and not by recourse to arms.” Sixty years ago, the saintly Pope John XXIII, as his life was drawing to an end, shared his encyclical Pacem in terris, on peace in the world, as a contribution toward the first steps towards disarmament and détente.

The doctrine of a ‘just war’ was finished, and with great realism, the Pope from Bergamo warned of the risks of the new and powerful nuclear weapons. Sixty years later, that text is still relevant but sadly unheeded. Today we seem to have lost a full realization of how devastating a nuclear war would be – an understanding that was vitally present to those who were alive in April 1963. Today, the world is torn apart by dozens of forgotten conflicts, and a terrible war that began with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine continues in the very heart of Christian Europe. The culture of non-violence is struggling to find its place, while many people seem to consider even the words ‘negotiation’ or ‘talks’ to be almost blasphemous. Even the idea of strengthening a world political authority capable of fostering the peaceful resolution of international disputes has given way to scepticism. Diplomacy appears muted, while war and an insane arms race are seen as inevitable.

And yet, despite this bleak picture, the principles listed by Pope John in Pacem in terris, continue not only to challenge consciences but are put into practice daily by those who do not surrender to the inevitability of hatred, violence, prevarication, and war. They are witnessed by those ‘artisans of peace’ who today undertake their missions in Ukraine and in so many other parts of the world, often putting their lives at risk. They are witnessed to by all those who take seriously the words that Pope Francis spoke in the nunciature in Kinshasa when meeting the victims of unspeakable violence: “To say ‘no’ to violence it is not enough to avoid acts of violence. We also need to eliminate the roots of violence, greed, envy, and, above all, resentment.” One must have “the courage to disarm the heart.”

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11 April 2023, 10:40