This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Pope John XXIII’s historic encyclical, Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), published April 11, 1963.
The document is historic for many reasons. Consider the list:
- It was the first papal encyclical to be addressed not just to Catholic bishops or all Catholics, but to “all people of good will.” (This shift was every bit as significant at the time as some of the changes in style that we currently see Pope Francis offering, and it’s now fairly standard practice for papal encyclicals.)
- It was written in the months following the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was terrifying moment in 1962 when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war and which Good Pope John had a hand in bringing to peaceful resolution. (Time magazine named him Man of the Year just months later.) His credibility as peacemaker was huge, and he chose to capitalize on this with an encyclical on peace.
- It was written when the Pope knew (but the world did not) that he was dying of cancer. It was his final statement to the Church and the world. He died less than three months after its publication.
- It was also published during the Second Vatican Council and had a significant impact on the work and the teaching of that Council.
- It marked a dramatic shift in Catholic teaching. A century earlier, someone speaking about human rights as Pope John did in this encyclical was likely to be labeled a heretic.
- Fifty years later, it remains the most complete statement there is by the Catholic Church about human rights. It set the stage for the human rights activism of Pope John Paul II, who became one of the world’s foremost voices of his time in defense of the rights of all people.
Wow, that’s an encyclical that’s worth a second look!
That’s what you’ll find in a new article I’ve written that appears in the new issue of Our Sunday Visitor. The article’s available online only to subscribers. But OSV has kindly provided a .pdf of the article as it appears in the issue and given permission to attach it here. Click here to open it: Pacem in Terris anniversary, OSV