Fr James Channan Speaks on “Pacem in Terris”

At Notre Dame University Conference, “Peace Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Celebrating 50 Years since Pacem in Terris, encyclical of Pope John XXIII”

I am deeply impressed that the organizers have given such an importance to my country – Pakistan,  which is confronted with so many challenges and crises. On the one side there are people  who are determined to promote peace, justice, human rights, reconciliation, healing, interreligious dialogue and equality for all, with discrimination towards none. While on the other side there are people and forces who are contrary to peace and  they keep on promoting;  terrorism, extremism, fanaticism, violence, injustice and conflicts of all sorts based on religious, ethnic, political, geographical and  linguistic affiliations.

There is a constant struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, justice and injustice, fanaticism and respect for all and religious freedom. We are living in a very challenging situation.

In such a situation the encyclical of Pope John XXIII is of prime importance which has set before all men and women of good will, an immense task for all around the world and for us in Pakistan.  For example, in number 163 of the encyclical we read an I quote, “Hence among the very serious obligations incumbent upon men of high principles, we must include the task of establishing new relationships in human society, under the mastery and guidance of truth, justice, charity and freedom relations between individual citizens, between citizens and their respective states, between States, and finally between individuals, families, intermediate associations and States on the one hand, and the world community on the other. There is  surely no one who will not consider this a most exalted task, for it is one which is able to bring about true peace in accordance with divinely established order.

Although this encyclical was written 50 years ago it is very significant for our times as well.  Rather it’s  importance in Pakistan is  much more relevant and it poses us great challenges to overcome  the crises we are faced with  and thus establish lasting peace  in Pakistan.  This encyclical has established principles that are  featured  in some of the documents of the Vatican Council II. All  Popes after John XXIII,  Paul VI,   John Paul II, Benedict XVI gave prime importance to truth, justice, charity and religious freedom. I am sure our newly elected  Pope Francis will also do the same  to these aspects so that peace may prevail on earth. Pope Francis choose his name to follow the great example of St. Francis of Assisi who is a model of peace with entire creation and in following our Savior Lord  Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace.  So wonderful to know that Pacem in Terris was the first encyclical that the Pope did not address to the Catholics only, but to “all  men of good will”. So it  is for all people of Pakistan, both Christians and Muslims and people of all other religions. It encourages us and inspires to do  what  is good, based on truth, justice and charity to bring peace and harmony in our society.  Peace is an ongoing process, it is not an absence of war – which unfortunately we do not have in Pakistan – absence of war- We are living in a war like situation  after the 9/11 horrific incident.  To come out of this war like situation is an uphill battle. We go two steps forward and one step backward. However, our struggle does not end until there is peace all around us. And true and lasting  peace, I believe, can be achieved only when we have peace in our hearts, peace in our families, peace in our cities and countries. We cannot give what you do not have. If we  have peace in your hearts we  will be able to  give to others.

 Pope John tells us that  how difficult the task of peace is and how few are the number of people who are dedicated to this task. In the encyclical Number 164 we read and I quote; “Considering the need, the men who are shouldering this responsibility as far too few in number, yet they are deserving of the highest recognition from society, and We rightfully honor them with Our   public praise. We call upon them to persevere in their ideals, which are of such tremendous benefit to mankind. At the same time We are encouraged to hope that many more men, Christians especially, will join their cause, spurred on by love and the realization of their duty. Every one who has joined the ranks of Christ must be glowing point of light in the world, a nucleus of love, a leaven of the whole mass. He will be so in proportion to his degree of spiritual union with God.”

This message is even more relevant now, in the year 2013  for us in Pakistan, both for Christians and Muslims where we are confronted with so many problems.