Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Religion Columnist Steinfels Says Papal Doctrine Still Applicable 41 Years Later

Andreas Jeninga/The Hoya New York Times columnist Peter Steinfels kicked off the Pacem in Terris lecture series last Friday in ICC Auditorium.

Peter Steinfels, religion and ethics columnist for The New York Times, delivered a speech entitled “Pacem in Terris: Pope John XXIII’s Legacy, Our Challenge,” in the ICC Auditorium last Friday at 3:30 p.m.

The lecture is the first in a series of presentations to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Pacem in Terris, or Peace on Earth, an Encyclical – a papal letter issued to church bishops – issued by Pope John XXIII in 1963. The Encyclical was created as a call for lasting peace in a world where “people are living in the grip of constant fear,” as the Pope said in the document.

Pacem in Terris was conceived by Pope John XXIII in the late-night hours of Oct. 23, 1962, at the highest point of the Cuban Missile Crisis with the world on the brink of nuclear war.

“In many ways those events seem so distant . yet much of that time seems so very near. People still seek the human rights which Pacem in Terris outlined,” Steinfels said.

When the Encyclical was first issued, it was embraced by Catholic readers as none of his previous seven had been.

“This was a new kind of papal document. Yet in its style and methodology it was the last of an old kind,” Steinfels said.

Although it may not seem revolutionary today, the Encyclical stressed “universality and equality of right for all people.” Steinfels said that even though it may seem like an obvious lesson in civics today, Pope John XXIII’s statement that “racial discrimination can in no way be respected,” came before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

In Feb. 1965, Steinfels and 2,200 others attended a Pacem in Terris conference at the United Nations where numerous views of the Encyclical were presented.

Although most agreed that it was an important event in the history of religious and political thought, some wondered whether it was so general as to be meaningless, while others questioned its premises.

Many also believed that the Encyclical was overly optimistic and that the Pope had too much confidence in his idealistic views. Although it outlined an array of goals which could ultimately lead to human peace, the Pope did not “order” peacemaking, and this, Steinfels said, may be one of its weaknesses.

One of the sections most relevant to current-day affairs is Pope John Paul II’s plea for the development of a universal public authority. The Pope has called for the use of the U.N. as the first step to an effective world-wide governing organization.

The current war on Iraq has refocused attention on the U.N.’s capability to serve as this public authority. According to the Pope, it must be run by legitimacy – the national authorities must respect its powers – as well as efficacy.

Steinfels said that the outright rivalry between the United States and the U.N. to rule as the foremost public authority “has repeatedly emerged in the center of current drama.” This can be directly paralleled to insistence by the Pope that the world authority “be set up by common accord, and not imposed by force.” If it were imposed by force, there would be continual one-sided interest, and even suspicion as to its true intentions and partiality.

“[The competing nations] will rightfully resist an authority imposed by force or of whose creation they had no role,” Steinfels said.

Finally, Steinfels discussed the four words that run throughout the Encyclical as the basis for peace – “truth, justice, love and freedom. I suggest that we should all repeat these words as a kind of prayer . these should be our watchwords in the future for all things,” Steinfels said.

At the end of the 40 minute speech, there was a brief question and answer session.

Steinfels, who, in the past, has been a visiting professor of history at Georgetown, is a graduate of Loyola University, and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. His biweekly column, “Beliefs,” appears in The New York Times.

Georgetown’s commemoration of the Encyclical will include lectures by speakers such as Cherie Booth, Michael Novack, Prince Hassan bin-Talal of Jordan, Paul Farmer, Andrea Riccardi and E.J. Dionne.

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