For the breadth of its outlook there is a temptation to describe the Message for the World Day of Peace as an encyclical in miniature. Two events that happened half a century ago form the background to the text. They are the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, inaugurated on 11 October 1962, and Pacem in Terris of 11 April 1963, John XXIII's last Encyclical which identified the four foundations of peaceful coexistence: truth, freedom, love and justice.
The global context is marked by conflicts and the winds of war, caused and reinforced by phenomena that have several times been listed: from deregularized financial capitalism to terrorism, to the forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism that disfigure the authentic face of religion. Yet we must not resign ourselves to the hardship inspired by criteria of power or profit, the Pope reasserts once again, relaunching and renewing in a tweet one of Paul VI's most effective slogans: “peace is not a dream or something utopian; it is possible”.
The precondition of peace is the acknowledgement of the natural moral law, damaged by trends that wish to codify arbitrary decisions such as the claim to the right to abortion and to euthanasia, which on the contrary threaten the fundamental right to life. In the same way, attempts to make different forms of union juridically equivalent to the natural structure of marriage in fact destabilize it and damage its irreplaceable role in society.
The papal text explicitly declares that these principles are not truths of faith nor are they simply a corollary of the primordial right to religious freedom; they are inscribed in human nature accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, “but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation”.
The emphasis is certainly not new. However it appears very significant today and sounds like an obvious confirmation of the line taken by those Catholics who in various countries have been and are able to encourage the convergence of believers and non-believers of different religious affiliation and ideals in this cultural battle in support of principles that is common to all. This is happening in France, where, Orthodox and Protestants, Jews, Muslims and lay intellectuals are to be found gathering around the positions of the Catholic Church contrary to marriage between homosexuals.
In this regard recognition of the principle of conscientious objection in the face of laws introducing attacks on human dignity, such as abortion and euthanasia, are a help in building peace, while religious freedom – a topic very dear to the Sister Churches of Orthodoxy, as Patriarch Bartholomaios stressed on the Feast of St Andrew – should be encouraged, not only as freedom from constrictions of any kind but, from a positive point of view, also as the freedom to express religion publicly.
Alongside the bio-political themes and those that concern the undeletable social dimension of faith, Benedict XVI places criticism of radical liberalism and technocracy and the defence of the right to work. He thereby expresses the hope that topics such as ethical structures for markets and the food crisis may continue to be the focus of the international political agenda but in the conviction that the roles of the family and of education remain fundamental – on a theme peace, which really does concern everyone.