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Pacem in Terris

Fifty-eight years ago today Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), a papal encyclical, was issued by Pope John XXIII. This encyclical had a momentous impact on the Catholic Church’s view of the world. It is a living document that directly inspired the work of Development and Peace. Pacem in Terris recognized the growing rights of workers, the advancement of women, the spread of democracy and an affirmation that war was not the way to obtain justice. It was the first encyclical addressed, not just to Catholics, but “to all people of good will,” and laid the foundations for the attainment of a just and lasting peace.

Pacem in Terris was released only 15 years after the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and is often called the ‘first declaration of human rights’ by the Catholic magisterium.  It became a social teaching accessible to millions of people.

The encyclical starts out on the building blocks of human dignity and human relationships. From these core values, it explains how each country has the right to existence, to self-development, and the means to achieve their development. Minority groups should be protected and be allowed to live in association with other people within a state.

Pacem in Terris paved the way for strong involvement of the Catholic Church and faith-based organizations in the promotion of human rights, justice, peace-building and peaceful resolution of conflicts. In the years that followed its release, Bishops’ conferences created many human rights centers, and Catholic peace movements sprung up all over the world. 

Pacem in Terris was signed by Pope John XXIII a month before he died. It was his legacy to the Vatican II Council, which he had convened to open the windows of the Church onto the modern world. In the half-century since the issue of the encyclical in 1963, the world has undergone dramatic changes in technology and the globalization of every aspect of human existence, and human rights awareness has been institutionalized in practically every country’s constitution.

 The encyclical ends with an exhortation to uphold the four pillars of peace – truth, justice, love and freedom – virtues that need to be pursued and concretized. 

Today, we are reminded once again of the concluding words in Pacem in Terris: “Peace is but an empty word, if it does not rest upon… an order that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.”  (above excepts from Jess Agustin, from the office of  Development and Peace, The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace)

For a quick overview of Pacem in Terris we invite to view this video by Thomas O’Brien.