Pope St John XXIII signs "Pacem in terris" Pope St John XXIII signs "Pacem in terris" 

Vatican Observer to UN: 'Pacem in terris' guiding star for path of peace

Interview with the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the UN on the relevance of St John XXIII's encyclical 60 years from its publication. Archbishop Gabriele Caccia reiterates the Vatican's commitment in favour of multilateralism and dialogue between peoples and nations and draws a connection between "Pacem in terris" and Pope Francis' "Fratelli tutti”.

By Alessandro Gisotti

Sixty years after its publication, Pacem in terris continues to be the North Star that points the way for those who, especially in the field of diplomacy, are committed to promoting dialogue between peoples and building peace between nations. Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, is convinced of this. In this interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the prelate underlines the topicality of St. John XXIII's encyclical and reiterates the Vatican's support for international organisations and multilateralism at a time marked by wars and confrontations never experienced since the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

You have served the Holy See for many years. How much has “Pacem in terris” influenced the vision and commitment of Vatican diplomacy for peace over the last 60 years and on what points in particular?

The encyclical was written after the first great international crisis in which the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis" and its nuclear threat put the world at risk of planetary destruction. The encyclical allowed us to once again view a sky cleared of the clouds that had gathered, and to rediscover the polar star, which indicates the direction of the path, rather than the concrete roads to be undertaken. The text, as the title clearly states, deals with the theme of peace and extends to the complex network of relations both at an interpersonal level with rights and duties, and to the relationships between the individual and public authority, and between states. Moreover, the encyclical is significantly situated in the broader context of a particularly lively season regarding the Church's reflection on its relationship with the world, that of the Second Vatican Council, which had just begun. Therefore it is rich with ideas and issues that will later be taken up in broader and more diversified contexts. However, I would like to emphasise the issue of disarmament.

Can you dwell on this key point of “Pacem in terris”?

It issues a clear warning to overcome the logic of building relationships based on fear of the other and thus on a balance of terror, instead of on mutual trust, but it does highlight the need for instruments to verify sincerity in negotiation, and the fulfilment of obligations assumed. Simplifying, we could say, it issues an invitation to move from the logic of confrontation to that of encounter, from opposition to collaboration and from rivalry to fraternity, that is, to promote "integral disarmament". In this context, the Holy Father then warned against the alarming arms race, especially the increasingly deadly ones that can indiscriminately strike entire populations and at the same time destroy the very life of the planet, with a waste of "spiritual energies and economic resources" that could be better used for the promotion of life and the environment. This appeal, repeated again and again, by successive pontiffs, unfortunately, continues to be topical in a context in which some important steps taken in the past for the reduction of nuclear weapons, risk not finding adequate ways to renew and bring to fruition what still remains a clear objective expressed in unequivocal words in the encyclical: "Nuclear weapons must be banned".

In his speech at the United Nations - during the first historic visit of a Pope to the UN - Paul VI mentioned “Pacem in Terris” which, he emphasised, "which met with such an honoured and significant response among you". How is John XXIII's Encyclical considered in the UN today?

Historically, “Pacem in terris” is the first Encyclical in which mention is made of the United Nations Organisation, constituted on 26 June 1945, to which it dedicates the entirety of point No. 142, under the title "Modern Developments", with a reference also to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved on 10 December 1948 and of which this year marks the 75th anniversary. A great deal of attention and study, with initiatives at the highest level, were then held at UN headquarters, because it marked, albeit with the necessary nuances and clarifications, an important recognition for this Organisation, that is called to respond to global problems (conflicts, pandemics, climate change...) with global answers, always in search of the universal common good in respect of the rights of the person. It is interesting to note almost a crescendo following the encyclical: in fact, the following year, 1964, the Holy See became a Permanent Observer of the Organisation with the appointment of Bishop Alberto Giovannetti, while in the following year, 4 October 1965, Paul VI became the first Pontiff to address the General Assembly. To answer the question, I would say that perhaps not many of the new generation of diplomats are familiar with the text and context of the encyclical, although various initiatives are underway to mark its 60th anniversary, yet the spirit of that document lives on in the daily activities of this Mission, which is inspired by it, and in the path that the Church has taken and continues to take following its guiding star, as mentioned earlier.

In “Pacem in terris”, Pope John XIII dedicates ample space to the United Nations and hopes that the United Nations Organisation “will progressively adapt its structure and methods of operation to the magnitude and nobility of its tasks". How can the Holy See help the UN to realise this desire of the Pope in a historical phase in which there is increasing talk of a crisis of multilateralism?

I think that the best answer to this question is the latest encyclical of the Holy Father Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti. It brings a basic attitude, to be rediscovered and made one's own, back to the centre, in order to be able to grow in a context of respect and openness that are the premises for true cooperation between people, peoples, and nations. On this basis, effective ways of reform can be sought and found together, some of which are already at work even among the Members of the Organisation, such as the rethinking and enlargement of the Security Council, the issue of the veto, a more incisive role of the General Assembly, the participation of civil society, the world of culture and the private sector in appropriate ways. But all of this can only find concrete realisation if we walk in the proper spirit, the spirit founded on the pillars that are the foundation of the organisation itself, as well expressed in the preamble of the United Nations Charter, namely "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small; to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained; to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger in freedom”. To give also a concrete example of this path in the area of nuclear disarmament, in addition to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), there was the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and more recently, the Holy See was among the initiators and signatories to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force in January 2021.

Pope Francis has referred to “Pacem in terris” many times in these first ten years of his pontificate and even more so since the war in Ukraine began. In your opinion, how can a document like John XXIII's Encyclical, the spirit of that document, help the political leaders of our time to search for ways of peace?

The most extensive and recent reference to the encyclical made by Pope Francis can be found in his address of 9 January 2023 to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See for the customary New Year greetings. The articulate text takes up and comments on some dimensions of the encyclical in light of the current situation and responds to this very question, stating that "peace is possible in respect for four fundamental goods: truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.  These serve as the pillars that regulate relationships between individuals and political communities”. It is very interesting to see how the Holy Father develops these criteria in today's situation with clear indications on various issues in our society. Among the passages of this discourse, I would also like to point to a text about the nuclear threat, from which John XXIII's encyclical had in some way taken its start, in which we can see how much progress has been made in the meantime in this regard, expressing condemnation not only about the 'use', but even the 'possession' of such weapons. Pope Francis in fact, reaffirmed that the possession of atomic weapons is immoral because - as John XXIII observed - if it is difficult to be persuaded that there are people capable of assuming responsibility for the destruction and pain that a war would cause, and it is not excluded that an unpredictable and uncontrollable event could set off the spark that would set the war apparatus in motion. We hope and work so that these words find more and more space in the conscience of every person of 'good will' and concrete implementation in the instruments and decisions that those in charge of nations and the international community have at their disposal.

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11 April 2023, 12:09