WASHINGTON “In a message for the 2003 World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II declared that the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights praised by Pope John XXIII in the historic encyclical Pacem in Terris is the indispensable foundation for the development of that Organization’s capacity to promote and defend international security.
The Pope’s message for the World Day, entitled “Pacem in Terris: A Permanent Commitment,” is devoted to the ideas and continuing significance of the prophetic encyclical issued by Pope John XXIII nearly 40 years agoApril 11, 1963. Dated December 8, 2002, the message was released at the Vatican December 17. The World Day of Peace will be observed on January 1, 2003.
“The world to which John XXIII wrote was then in a profound state of disorder,” the Pope said. “The twentieth century had begun with great expectations for progress. Yet within sixty years, that same century had produced two World Wars, devastating totalitarian systems, untold human suffering, and the greatest persecution of the Church in history.”
Only two years before Pacem in Terris, the Berlin Wall had been erected, and just six months earlier the world had come to the brink of a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“Pope John XXIII did not agree with those who claimed that peace was impossible... The Encyclical spoke to everyone of their belonging to the one human family, and shone a light on the shared aspiration of people everywhere to live in security, justice and hope for the future.”
Pope John Paul II noted that his predecessor had looked with hope and expectation to the United Nations Organization, which had come into being in 1945, as “a credible instrument for maintaining and strengthening world peace,” and he considered the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights “an approximation towards the establishment of a juridical and political organization of the world community.”
“Not only is it clear that Pope John XXIII”s vision of an effective international public authority at the service of human rights, freedom and peace has not yet been entirely achieved, but there is still in fact much hesitation in the international community about the obligation to respect and implement human rights,” Pope John Paul II wrote. “Likewise, we are witnessing the emergence of an alarming gap between a series of “new” rights being promoted in advanced societies”the result of new prosperity and new technologies”and other more basic human rights still not being met, especially in situations of underdevelopment.”
“Another observation needs to be made: the international community, which since 1948 has possessed a charter of the inalienable rights of the human person, has generally failed to insist sufficiently on corresponding duties. It is duty that establishes the limits within which rights must be contained in order not to become an exercise in arbitrariness. A greater awareness of universal human duties would greatly benefit the cause of peace, setting it on the moral basis of a shared recognition of an order in things which is not dependent on the will of any individual or group.”
Despite setbacks and difficulties, said Pope John Paul, significant progress has been made in the past 40 years towards the vision of Pacem in Terris. “The fact that states throughout the world feel obliged to honor the idea of human rights shows how powerful are the tools of moral conviction and spiritual integrity, which proved so decisive in the revolution of conscience that made possible the 1989 non-violent revolution that displaced European communism,” he wrote. “And although distorted notions of freedom as license continue to threaten democracy and free societies, it is surely significant that, in the forty years since Pacem in Terris, much of the world has become more free, structures of dialogue and cooperation between nations have been strengthened, and the threat of global nuclear war, which weighed so heavily on Pope John XXIII, has been effectively contained.”
“Perhaps nowhere today is there a more obvious need for the correct use of political authority than in the dramatic situation of the Middle East and the Holy Land,” the Holy Father continued. “Day after day, year after year, the cumulative effect of bitter mutual rejection and an unending chain of violence and retaliation have shattered every effort so far to engage in serious reflection on the real issues involved. The volatility of the situation is compounded by the clash of interests among the members of the international community. Until those in positions of responsibility undergo a veritable revolution in the way they use their power and go about securing their peoples” welfare, it is difficult to imagine how progress towards peace can be made. The fratricidal struggle that daily convulses the Holy Land and brings into conflict the forces shaping the immediate future of the Middle East shows clearly the need for men and women who, out of conviction, will implement policies firmly based on the principle of respect for human dignity and human rights.”
Pope John Paul II wrote: “At the beginning of a new year in our human history, this is the hope that rises spontaneously from the depths of my heart: that in the spirit of every individual there may be a renewed dedication to the noble mission which Pacem in Terris proposed forty years ago to all men and women of good will. The task, which the Encyclical called “immense”, is that “of establishing new relationships in human society, under the sway and guidance of truth, justice, love and freedom.”