Cardinal Peter Turkson marked the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” or “Peace on Earth,” by saying that peace stems from the dignity of the person and is meant for everyone.
“We often hear about peace,” but we often misunderstand what it is, Cardinal Turkson said at an April 11 conference at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The cardinal, who serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and hails from Ghana, noted that peace is not simply “the absence of war and conflict” but a “a gift from God.”
“Peace is an attribute of God himself. God is peace. Creation aspires to peace,” Cardinal Turkson said. “This gift” and expression on earth, he added, “becomes real only when people embrace it.”
Thus peace “begins with the basis of the human person.”
“Pacem in Terris” is a 1963 papal encyclical written by Pope John XXIII. The encyclical, written during the height of the Cold War, emphasized negotiation as a means of conflict resolution, and places a strong emphasis on the inherent human rights “to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life.”
The encyclical addressed interpersonal peace in addition to man’s relationships to the state and the relationships between nations. The document also encourages cooperation between Catholics in promoting peace and its proper understanding among non-Catholics and non-Christians around the globe.
Cardinal Turkson emphasized that “Pacem in Terris” is an encyclical directed at the human persona and at all persons throughout the globe – a fact that is represented in that the encyclical addressed “all men of good will,” not just Catholics. “All men are involved in this endeavor,” the cardinal emphasized.
“The building block of nations has been a stumbling block for peace,” he added, explaining that “the humanly established order does not inherently promote peace.”
He said that countries are fundamentally in conflict with one another because they exist to promote their own interests and national agendas. “Here then are the origins of conflict: envy and greed and other base human tendencies are still with us” in many aspects of the structure of states.
This is why “Pacem in Terris” was “addressed to people, not to nations,” Cardinal Turkson said.
He also explained that the mission “Pacem in Terris” did not begin 50 years ago with the writing of the encyclical, but “began with the shepherds and the magi way back at the birth of Christ.”
The cardinal added that the incarnation and the announcement of Christ’s birth was spread not not just to the Jews but to everyone. In a similar way, the encyclical is for the whole world, not just Christians or Catholics.
The mission of “Pacem in Terris” is also recognized in the reception of peace and the Gospel, Cardinal Turkson added. There is a “need for everyone to be an agent, but also a beneficiary, of peace.”