Lessons from Pope John: Vatican hosts conference on Pacem in Terris

At a conference held in the Vatican to mark sixty years since the publication of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, experts discuss the struggle for “a world in which war does not does not take place.”

Sep 21, 2023

Sr Helen Alford and Cardinal Peter Turkson at the conference "Pacem in Terris: War and Other Obstacles to Peace.”

By Joseph Tulloch and Alessandro di Bussolo
Sixty years have passed since Pope John XXIII published his landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).

To mark the anniversary, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, together with the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), hosted a two-day conference entitled “Pacem in Terris: War and Other Obstacles to Peace.”

On the sidelines of the conference, Vatican News’ Alessandro di Bussolo spoke to a number of attendees: Sr Helen Alford, head of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Dr Marianne Dahl, a senior researcher at the PRIO, and Cardinal Peter Turkson, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

The conference
Cardinal Turkson began by noting that there were two main reasons for the organisation of the conference: firstly, the anniversary of the encyclical, and, secondly, its renewed relevance in a world again torn by conflict. Pope Francis, the Cardinal recalled, often says that today’s conflicts amount to a "Third World War fought “piecemeal”. 

This was a theme that Sr Alford expanded on, noting that, while the current situation is “not dissimilar” from that of the 1960s, today we face many new threats, including "AI guided weapons, use of cyber, use of lethal autonomous weapon systems, new kinds of weapon systems which have to be properly regulated, which may need to be prohibited.”

Difficulties for anti-war activism
Dr Dahl, meanwhile, brought attention to another serious obstacle to peace – namely, the declining success of anti-war activism.

“The success rate of non-violent campaigns is lower today than it used to be,” she said. “It seems like autocrats across the world have been learning how to adapt to challenges from mass mobilisation.”

Part of the problem, she explained, is infiltration of anti-war groups. “Quite a few autocrats have been sending infiltrators into movements to move them away from non-violent strategies towards more violent ones.”

However, she stressed, “movements are also learning, advancing their strategies, figuring out how to move about. So I don't think is any reason not to think that we will get back into the golden era of mass mobilisation.”

Lessons from Pope John XXIII
How should the world respond in the face of such problems?

What is needed, suggested Sr Alford, is “at the very least … to promote peace by limiting the worst aspects of war, and to try to move towards a situation which already Pacem in Terris foresaw, and which Pope Francis is also really pushing for: a world in which war does not does not take place.”

Cardinal Turkson, too, stressed the importance of “creat[ing] for ourselves a new posture of mind based on the five pillars that Pope John XXIII presented as necessary for a culture of peace, namely: respect for dignity, the common good, freedom, trust, and love.”

Both were confident that the Pacem in Terris conference has the potential to advance this cause.

“The people here,” stressed Sr. Alford, “with the many competencies they have in the new technologies, in the application of ethics to these technologies and in the legal regulation of these technologies, will be working together to produce a good answer, to contribute to the future development of better systems, to control violence and to promote peace.”--Vatican News

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