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Dangerously ignored: Prophetic encyclical 'Peace on Earth'

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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, St. Pope John XXIII 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, St. 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).

St. 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 ‘demilitarise’ 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 (“Peace on Earth”). 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
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Comments from readers

Alain Garcia - 06/08/2023 07:21 PM
"peace" on communist terms is not peace at all. Disarming yourself is just plain stupid and irrational. Peace through strength. Catholics are not pacifists our lady at Fatima gave us the instructions for peace perhaps we should oblige her.
Valli Leobe - 06/05/2023 09:30 AM
Well done, Tony. This article is both insightful and informative. Now, if only the politicians, peoples and nations of the world would heed this advice and encyclical written by our Good Pope John. For even long before this letter was written to the Church, our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, who is our peace, gave us his life and his Word that we might enjoy the abundant blessings of true freedom and peace. What more will it take? In addition, I feel the necessity to mention what a disgrace it is, in my opinion on a personal and local level that Christians everywhere depend more on their handguns and other weapons than they do on the Prince of Peace to protect them in their homes, work, schools, and everywhere we go. I say, “Wake up, Church!” Guns cannot save anyone. They can only incite individuals to carry them, to kill annd mame, and to depend on them, because fear has overtaken the world. Jesus said, “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.“ Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. My hope, my salvation’, my peace and my security, are in you alone, oh Lord. If only we would stay in the presence of the Lord and his Word and in his Eucharist, we would know the fullness of joy and the foolishness of arming up more and more. All we really need is the full armor of God given to us in Ephesians 6. Death had no sting for us!!! ✝️⚓️💜

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