APRIL 11, 2013 was the 50th anniversary of Pacem in Terris. But it looked like it just slipped by with nary a whimper, at least in this part of Christendom—and, curiously, for one reason or the other. In the Philippines, as perhaps in other parts of Asia, the social teachings of the Church are not as religiously favorite as, say, traditional religious beliefs or the most recent social advocacies.
This social encyclical that was issued on April 11, 1963—in the thick of the cold war or barely two years after the erection of the Berlin Wall and few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis—may be rivaled only by Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. It was touted as a “platform for Catholic social action.” On its release, it has immediately gained wide attention even from non-Catholics. The United Nations, in fact, held a three-day special conference on this document. It was the first time—and, certainly, the last time—that the New York Times printed a papal encyclical in toto.
One can only think of two reasons, among others, why this social encyclical gained so much attention at that time: one, because of Pope John XIII’s conspicuous mediating role in averting the Cuban missile crisis, for which Premier Nikita Khruschev of the USSR reportedly said, “In regard to what Pope John did for peace, his was humanistic assistance that will be recorded in history.” And, two, because of the raging debates on-going at the halls of Vatican Council II that after a year or so issued a Decree on Religious Liberty which apparently was substantially influenced by the perspective of this monumental papal document.
At a time in history characterized by an enormous build up of nuclear arsenal and a worsening cold war brought about by new frontiers in geo-politics and ideological differences, Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris offered a plausible option, not only to Catholics, but to all men of goodwill that peace on earth is possible through the divinely established order. He called for disarmament and supported the United Nations as a worldwide authority that could end conflicts between nations. He encouraged economic cooperation among nations and stressed that no country may pursue its own interests in isolation. He stressed that public authorities have a special obligation to serve the less fortunate and posited that no law contrary to the moral order is ever binding on citizens. He made prominent the growing rights of the working class, the advancement of women, the spread of democracy and the strong conviction that war was surely not a way to obtain peace and justice.
Despite massive technological advancements and the end of the cold war with the collapse of the USSR and the Berlin Wall nothing much has really changed especially in terms of economic cooperation or otherwise and the constantly shifting geopolitics. With the presently gaping conflict in the Korean peninsula, the global war against terrorism, the religious fundamentalism in Muslim nations and the deeply entrench self-interest of the West, perhaps there is a pressing need for a re-statement of Pacem in Terris—but in the language of the present and to the same targeted men of goodwill that may still be in the works.