St. John XXIII’s prophetic encyclical ‘Peace on Earth’– dangerously remains ignored
Just over 60 years ago, the earth as we know it came dangerously close to being engulfed in a nuclear fireball.
In October of 1962, the United States demanded that the Soviet Union’s nuclear missile sites in Cuba be dismantled and removed. After the Soviet Union refused, the U.S. established a Cuban naval blockade.
With the situation quickly escalating towards nuclear war, Pope John XXIII issued an urgent appeal for peace.
In a letter to American President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the pope pleaded, “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace. They will thus spare the world from the horrors of a war whose terrifying consequences no one can predict.”
A few days later, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles. And Kennedy soon lifted the blockage.
The Cuban missile crisis had ended, but it had a profound effect upon “Good Pope John.”
Just months later in April of 1963 he issued his prophetic landmark encyclical letter “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”).
Mindful of humanity’s recent close brush with nuclear war, and the devastation conventional wars cause, he wrote, “Justice, then, right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease, that the stockpiles which exist in various countries should be reduced equally and simultaneously by the parties concerned, that nuclear weapons should be banned, and finally that all come to an agreement on a fitting program of disarmament, employing mutual and effective controls.”
Tragically, Pope John’s appeal to justice, right reason, and consideration for human dignity and life is largely ignored when it comes to ending the arms race, banning nuclear weapons, and moving toward verifiable multilateral disarmament of all weapons.
Big money is a gigantic obstacle here. War making and war preparation is an extremely lucrative business, especially for arms producing corporations like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and BAE.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, worldwide annual military spending is now at an all-time high of over $2 trillion (see: https://bit.ly/41xUO9K).
Pope John wrote, “Disagreements must be settled, not by force … but rather in the only manner which is worthy of the dignity of man, that is, by a mutual assessment of the reasons on both sides of the dispute, by a mature and objective investigation of the situation, and by an equitable reconciliation of differences of opinion.”
And as Good Pope John wisely counseled, true peace will be born when human rights are universally respected, and when equality of arms is replaced with “mutual trust alone.”
In a recent article written for the Italian magazine L’Espresso, Pope Francis wrote, “Only by stopping the arms race, which takes away resources for fighting hunger and thirst and ensuring medical care for those who have none, can we avert the self-destruction of our humanity” (see: https://bit.ly/3KOTQ2a).
“What is needed is what 60 years ago St. John XXIII, in his encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris,’ called ‘integral disarmament,’” he said. The idea that peace can be based on an equal balance of weapons ready to use “must be replaced by the principle that true peace can only be built in mutual trust.”
“One must have the courage to ‘disarm’ hearts, to ‘demilitarize’ them, to remove poison and resentment,” Francis wrote.
So, please consider reading and praying with Good Pope John’s still highly relevant and challenging encyclical letter “Pacem in Terris.” Perhaps this could become a parish-wide project (see: https://bit.ly/3KMgKHh)? And please sign the petition https://bit.ly/3GPD3e6.
Don’t ever think, “I can’t make a difference?” The truth is that you can surely make a difference! Start with one step. And then another step. Just keep on walking toward peace, with the Prince of Peace.
Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated Catholic social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.