Sixty years ago, Holy Thursday, 1963, Pope John XXIII issued his final teaching to the world. The letter he wrote is called Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth. On establishing universal peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty).
John knew he had an inoperable cancer and had no more than three months to live.
In a sense this letter was his “last will and testament”. It was also his last instruction to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. At that time they were working over the document called “Schema 13”, later to be called “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in Today’s World”.
The world was deep into the Cold War. The East/West relations were in disrepair. The Cuban Missile Crisis had just occurred, October 1962.
Pope John, with the help of Norman Cousins, editor of The Saturday Review of Literature, played a role in bringing President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev to resolve the crisis, and for 13 days the world stood on the very brink of nuclear war.
Pope John anchors his teaching on an understanding of the very nature of human life. “Any well regulated and productive association in society demands the acceptance of one fundamental principle: each individual is truly a person, and has a nature endowed with intelligence and free will. As a result they have rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence of their nature. These rights and duties are universal and inviolable, and there for altogether inalienable.” (PT #9)
Today, the world is again deeply divided, as are the citizens of many nations; and the chasm between Left and Right grows deeper and more vicious.
After sixty years, the challenge given by Pope John remains applicable today.
John’s successor, Paul VI, further developed John’s recipe for peace by reminding us that the world is truly “a global village” and that true peace is the work of justice.
Fr. Steve Adrian