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Papal Letter Resonates with Wikipedia's Wales

Tuesday, 08 May 2012 05:00 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Papal encyclicals — letters popes send to Catholics on subjects of importance — can sometimes seem arcane or too theological to appeal to the average non-Catholic reader.

But Pope John XXIII’s encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ (Peace on Earth) — what he once called an “open letter to the world” — had a message that resonated with many when it was published in 1963 and, according to its proponents, still does today.

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, spoke on the contribution of free knowledge to peace.
(Getty Images)
Published when Cold War tensions were at their peak and shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall, this “peace encyclical” taught that a peaceful world order could be achieved only if it were built on truth and justice, if it guaranteed people’s freedom, and if it was perfected by love for, and solidarity with, others.

In particular, Pope John drew heavily on St. Augustine’s teaching on peace, which the fourth century saint defined as “tranquillitas ordinis,” the tranquillity of order, or “well-ordered concord.”

To mark the 50th anniversary of its publications, the teaching of ‘Pacem in Terris’ was vigorously debated last week in an ornate Renaissance palace in the Vatican Gardens, home to the Vatican’s prestigious Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Some leading global thinkers, not all of them Catholic, took part, including the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz, and the former president of Germany’s Central Bank, Hans Tietmeyer.

Speaking on the contribution of free knowledge to peace was Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia who described the work of the free, collaboratively edited encyclopaedia, and developments within his company.

Wales is not a Catholic and he hadn’t heard of ‘Pacem in Terris’ prior to attending the conference, but on reading it he said he “discovered a lot of good stuff — on sharing knowledge, on the open society.”

“It pleased me that [this document] was addressed to all people of good will,” he added. “I was impressed with the voice of the Catholic Church on these themes, and impressed by the fact that these points of view are brought forward in a modern way.”

Pope Benedict XVI noted in a message to the meeting’s participants that while the global political landscape has “changed significantly” over the past 50 years, the vision offered by Pope John “still has much to teach us as we struggle to face the new challenges for peace and justice in the post-Cold-War era, amid the continuing proliferation of armaments."

The encyclical “was and still is a powerful summons to engage in that creative dialogue between the Church and the world, between believers and non-believers,” he said, adding that it offers “a message of hope to a world that is hungry for it, a message that can resonate with people of all beliefs and none, because its truth is accessible to all.”

The Pontiff recalled its teachings were repeated after 9/11 by Blessed Pope John Paul II who insisted there can be “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.” That teaching remains crucial today, Benedict XVI said, and must find its way into international discourse on conflict resolution, thereby transforming “the sterile language of mutual recrimination which leads nowhere.”

“If the human creature is made in the image of God, a God of justice who is “rich in mercy,” then these qualities need to be reflected in the conduct of human affairs,” the Pope said. “Forgiveness is not a denial of wrongdoing, but a participation in the healing and transforming love of God which reconciles and restores.”

The Pope stressed that historic wrongs and injustices can be overcome only if men and women “are inspired by a message of healing and hope,” a message that offers a way out of a vicious circle of violence. He noted that since 1963, some of the conflicts that seemed insoluble at the time have passed into history, and encouraged the participants to “take heart” from this fact.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a British veteran campaigner for the protection of life from conception to death, warned against a globalization that fosters indifference to authentic truth, justice, charity or liberty — one that “tramples on these concepts in the name of a false liberalism or shallow Western modernity.”

The world, he said, can take one of two paths: one that emulates Pontius Pilate which pretends no truth exists, and says responsibility for everything, from abject poverty to industrial-scale abortion, belong to someone else. Or people can follow the great saints and the heroic examples of unknown figures in countries such as China, Nigeria, Sudan or North Korea.

Such courageous individuals, he said, have brought peace by performing “acts of self-giving charity with love for the truth, regardless of whatever worldly consequences that might bring.”

‘Pacem in Terris’ was one of Blessed John XXIII’s last acts, completed when he was terminally ill. He died two months after its publication.

Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.

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