Peace message remains timely 60 years later


By Barb Arland-Fye

Sixty years ago on April 11, St. John XXIII released his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” or “Peace on Earth,” to a world on edge over the imminent threat of nuclear war. This pastoral letter to all people of good will offered invaluable insights on cultivating peace by ensuring that every human being on the planet has the opportunity to flourish individually and collectively. It is a message that resonates today and bears repeating. We are the followers of the “Prince of Peace.”

“Let us develop a culture of peace,” Pope Francis says in his prayer intention for April. “Living, speaking, and acting without violence is not giving up, it is not losing or giving up anything. It is to aspire to everything. As Saint John XXIII said 60 years ago in the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, war is madness, it is beyond reason,” the Holy Father said. He reminds us “even in cases of self-defense, peace is the goal. And that a lasting peace can only be a peace without weapons.” Nonviolence — in our daily lives and in international relations — must be a guide for our actions. “And let us pray for a greater diffusion of the culture of nonviolence, which involves the lesser use of weapons, both by States and by citizens.”

St. John XXIII laid out the building blocks for developing a culture of nonviolence in Pacem in Terris. These examples from the encyclical ( warrant reflection as we consider our responsibility as individuals, Iowans and as a nation in fostering a culture of nonviolence:

  • Foster the common good. “… [I]t is in the nature of the common good that every single citizen has the right to share in it — although in different ways, depending on his tasks, merits and circumstances. Hence every civil authority must strive to promote the common good in the interest of all, without favoring any individual citizen or category of citizen.”

St. John XXIII adds this caveat, citing Pope Leo XIII: “Nevertheless, considerations of justice and equity can at times demand that those in power pay more attention to the weaker members of society, since these are at a disadvantage when it comes to defending their own rights and asserting their legitimate interests” (No. 56).

  • Nations that “have attained to a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development … have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress” (No. 88).
  • Countries do not have the right to improve themselves “by the use of methods which involve other nations in injury and unjust oppression” (No. 92).
  • “The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control” (No. 112).
  • “[T]rue and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust … it is a thing which not only is dictated by common sense, but is in itself most desirable and most fruitful of good” (No. 113).
  • The principle of freedom must regulate relations between countries. “This means that no country has the right to take any action that would constitute an unjust oppression of other countries, or an unwarranted interference in their affairs” (No. 120).
  • Relationships between individuals and between nations flourish when love, not fear, dominates (No. 129).
  • “[E]ach country’s social progress, order, security and peace are necessarily linked with the social progress, order, security and peace of every other country” (No. 130).
  • Avoid “hotheadedness,” which discourages reconciliation of the contending parties and “reduces (people) and political parties to the necessity of laboriously redoing the work of the past, building on the ruins that disharmony has left in its wake” (No. 162).
  • Truth, justice, charity and freedom must guide our relationships. Engaging in this task will “bring about true peace in accordance with divinely established order” (No. 163).
  • “The world will never be the dwelling place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved” (No. 165).
  • During this sacred season, “pray earnestly to Him who by His bitter passion and death washed away men’s sins … to Him who shed His blood to reconcile the human race to the heavenly Father, and bestowed the gifts of peace …” (No. 169).

While reflecting on and reading the encyclical, learn more about fostering a culture of nonviolence on The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative website (

“Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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