Fifty years ago, on April 11, 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). The situation in the world and for the Pope was serious: the Berlin Wall had been erected two years earlier, the Cuban missile crisis had taken place six months earlier, and John XXIII had been diagnosed with stomach cancer nearly seven months earlier. The disease would take his life within two months of the promulgation of Pacem in Terris.
Radical in its vision of the possibility of establishing peace on earth, and aware of the awesome forces at work that threatened that possibility, Pacem in Terris was the first encyclical that the Pope addressed not only to the Catholic faithful, but also to "all men of good will."
The encyclical is long and carefully written, but straightforward in its message. The overarching theme is that peace on earth can only be achieve through the observation of the divinely established order among people, between people and the state, and among states themselves. At the core of this order are human rights, including the right to live, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to proper development of life. These are the foundational rights given to us in the gift of life. Each right conferred to us in the gift of life imposes a duty on us as well. The right to live implies a duty to preserve our own life and the lives of others, the right to bodily integrity implies a duty to care for our bodily state and not to violate other's physical integrity, and the right to proper development of life implies a duty to develop and use our gifts fully and to respect and recognize the gifts of others.
In the wake of several recent shootings, our leaders are struggling with what are largely common sense measures for addressing gun violence. These are supported by a significant majority of the American public, but our leaders are reluctant to act for fear of the gun lobby. While we debate ways to stem the tragic tide of senseless death, let us remember that something much more fundamental than the right to bear arms is at stake. People have an inherent right to live, to bodily integrity, and to develop themselves fully. All of these have been repeatedly and brutally violated in the many shootings that have taken place in the past few months. Please join me in doing whatever you can to hold our elected officials accountable for protecting these most sacred of rights.