World Peace Day Message Focuses on Reconciliation in War-Torn Areas

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II said the worsening chain of violence in places such as the Middle East calls for a “revolution” in political thinking and for regional leaders committed to the respect of human dignity.

In his 15-page annual World Peace Day message, released at the Vatican on Dec. 17 — two weeks ahead of the Church's celebration of World Peace Day, Jan. 1 — John Paul focused on the four basic principles identified by Blessed Pope John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) as essential for world peace: truth, justice, love and freedom.

The Holy Father said the bond between peace and truth means that no human activity takes place outside the sphere of moral judgment, and international politics cannot be considered a “free zone” in which moral law holds no sway.

Respect for truth also means that state and government leaders must honor their commitments, including those made in international forums, he said.

“Promises made to the poor should be considered particularly binding,” he said. In this sense, the failure to maintain aid commitments to developing countries is a “serious moral question and further highlights the injustice of the imbalances existing in the world,” he said.

“The suffering caused by poverty is compounded by the loss of trust.

The end result is hopelessness,” he said.

The Pope also said that along with increasing awareness of human rights, the international community needs to insist more on the “universal human duties” that correspond to such rights.

He also suggested the time has come to consider a new international organization capable of ensuring peace in strife-torn places such as the Holy Land.

The Pope said he was not suggesting a “global super-state” to regulate international affairs but a mechanism to help make international political decisions more participatory.

The fratricidal conflict in the Holy Land — where international interests have compounded the problems instead of resolving them — cries out for such a new approach, he said.

The Pope said Pacem in Terris had been prophetic in many ways, especially in its recognition that an emerging human rights movement marked a new phase in human history.

From the fall of dictatorships to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, global events have proved Blessed Pope John XXIII right, he said. Much of the world has become freer, channels of dialogue have been opened and the threat of nuclear war has been contained, he said.

At the same time, the global imbalance between rich and poor is taking new forms, he warned.

“We are witnessing the emergence of an alarming gap between a series of new ‘rights' being promoted in advanced societies — the result of new prosperity and new technologies — and other more basic human rights still not being met,” he said.

John Paul said he was thinking in particular of the fundamental rights to food, drinking water, housing and self-determination, rights still unmet for many people.

Thus a “serious disorder” remains in world affairs, generating tensions and conflict around the globe, he said. The United Nations has played an important role, he said, but peace and respect for human rights remain elusive in many places.

“Is this not the time for all to work together for a new constitutional organization of the human family, truly capable of ensuring peace and harmony between peoples as well as their integral development?” he asked.

“But let there be no misunderstanding. This does not mean writing the constitution of a global super-state.

“Rather, it means continuing and deepening processes already in place to meet the almost universal demand for participatory ways of exercising political authority, even international political authority, and for transparency and accountability at every level of public life.”

The Holy Father said that perhaps nowhere is there a more obvious need for such political intervention than in the Middle East and the Holy Land, where “day after day, year after year, the cumulative effect of bitter mutual rejection and an unending chain of violence and retaliation have shattered every effort so far to engage in serious dialogue.”

“The volatility of the situation is compounded by the clash of interests among the members of the international community,” he said. The impasse will be broken only when leaders undergo a “veritable revolution” in the way they use their power and secure their people's welfare, he said.

The Middle East needs men and women who will implement policies based on respect for human dignity and human rights, the Pope said.

“Such policies are incomparably more advantageous to everyone than the continuation of conflict,” he said.

The papal letter did not touch upon other concrete examples of international conflict, nor did it examine the recent increase in global terrorism and U.S.-led efforts to contain it through military means.

Sunlight illuminates a tree in full bloom as New York City celebrates Earth Day at Governors Island on April 20, 2024 in New York City. Earth Day originally started in 1970 as a way to celebrate and raise awareness about environmental issues facing the planet.

5 Catholic Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day and in response to the Holy Father’s message urging the faithful to take action in protecting the environment, here are five ways Catholics can celebrate Earth Day.