Cardinal Michael Czerny during a visit to war-torn Ukraine in March 2022 Cardinal Michael Czerny during a visit to war-torn Ukraine in March 2022 

Cardinal Czerny: Peace requires effort and dedication

Marking the 60th anniversary of Pope John XXIII's encyclical "Pacem in Terris", Cardinal Michael Czerny addresses an event highlighting the teachings of the encyclical in today's world, and how Pope Francis has carried them out throughout his pontificate.

By Francesca Merlo

Marking the 60th anniversary of Pope St John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris, Cardinal Michael Czerny, addressed the event “Prophecy and craftsmanship of peace”, promoted by the Foundation for Religious Sciences, the Theological Faculty of Emilia Romagna and Unesco.  

The Cardinal, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, highlighted three main areas, and began by noting that the Encyclical Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963) is part of a long series of magisterial documents with which the pontiffs of the 20th century turned their attention to the theme of peace. The first point Cardinal Czerny chose to focus on was “Pacem in Terris: from the heart of man, to the rethinking of society”

A sign of the times 

The Cardinal noted that this encyclical seemed to want to register the changes that had already occurred in the world's geopolitical settling, given the erection of the Berlin Wall (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), which so “strongly marked public opinion”.  

The desire for peace has always surfaced in humanity, writes Pope John XXIII, but in a historical era in which populations, already severely tried by the world wars, are further burdened by the opposition of the two great blocs, of totalitarian ideologies with disastrous effects on the rights of individuals and peoples, the yearning for peace constitutes a sign of the times'

Cardinal Czerny went on to say that John XXIII chose the starting point of the encyclical noting that peace is necessary for humanity to grow and prosper in the fullness of life.

"Peace, not as the absence of war", he explained, "but as the result of the consolidation of relations and relationships between people, between individuals and communities, between communities and nations, between nations and continents".

Peace has to do with the quality of social life, he added, "with concrete liveability, because it is one of the indispensable conditions so that the life of each man can find full realisation in the respect for his or her fundamental dignity".

Pope Francis' teachings

Cardinal Czerny’s second point underscored Pope Francis’ teachings stemming from the encyclical and of how, in particular, they have “outlined the historical context and some essential aspects of Pacem in Terris”.

He noted that one of the most striking aspects of Pope Francis’ reading of John XXIII’s encyclical is “the lesson he draws from it with respect to the very function of the Church's social doctrine".

"From Pacem in Terris, Pope Francis argues, we must learn what posture to assume as Church in the face of today's new challenges. Problems such as the educational emergency, the influence of the media on consciences, access to the earth's resources, the good or bad use of the results of biological research, the world economic crisis", the  Cardinal noted.


Pope Francis also emphasises the importance of peace when addressing the issue of migration. Cardinal Czery explained that the Holy Father urges us to "address its complexity from the perspective of peace" as "it is not enough to manage the emergency, to ensure a dignified reception for migrants and refugees, but in order to tackle the problem of migration adequately, there is the need to build a world in which there is peace for all". 

Finally, continued Cardinal Czerny, another important teaching relevant to John XXIII's encyclical is Pope Francis' repeated appeal for disarmament. "Hence the sensible and daring proposal that Francis addresses to all countries: renounce nuclear weapons and mass destruction", said the Cardinal.

The relevance of 'Fratelli tutti'

The third and final point Cardinal Czerny made, was the importance of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli tutti, in the wake of "Pacem in Terris". 

In fact, he continued, this encyclical “seems to echo and revive the yearning expressed by John XXIII in Pacem in Terris for peace and fraternity.

Pope Francis indicates two different levels on which to carry out the commitment to peace: "the 'political' one, which is the prerogative of institutions and whose work consists in the art of negotiation and the 'personal' one, which concerns the contribution offered by each person of goodwill in increasing the culture of peaceful social coexistence".

"Peace", concluded Cardinal Czerny, "is beautiful because it counteracts the ugliness of selfishness and individualism and is the fruit of a practice that requires effort and dedication". Finally, he said, from the perspective of the Christian faith, peace "appears not as the product of a heroic effort by the individual but as an event of communion".

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11 April 2023, 18:30