Cardinal Egan on the Challenges to Peace

Address at Vatican-Organized Videoconference

NEW YORK, MARCH 1, 2003 ( Here is the text of an address given by Cardinal Edward Egan at a Jan. 29 international theologians’ videoconference organized by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.

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The Challenges to Peace of War, Violence and Terrorism
Cardinal Edward Egan
Archbishop of New York

Dear friends in the Lord,

Forty years ago the world seemed to many to be on the brink of war, a war that could prove to be the death-knell of humanity. The Berlin Wall was dividing East and West, and the two sides were engaged in a frantic arms race with each producing huge stores of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the Cuban Missile Crisis held the world in the grip of fear. The most serious of threats were being made, and it appeared that humankind was stumbling toward the worst armed conflict in history.

It was in this context that Blessed John XXIII, Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter, penned his masterful encyclical “Pacem in Terris.” It was a plea for peace, but it was more than just a plea. It laid out a strategy for peace as valid and compelling today as it was in 1963.

In his message on the occasion of the World Day of Peace this very month, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, directed our attention to this masterful statement of Blessed John XXIII, pointing especially to those four “requirements of the human spirit” which Good Pope John had made the centerpiece of his encyclical.

The first of these requirements is truth. No war of any dimension, he noted, may be legitimately declared or pursued without clear and certain knowledge of a clear and certain danger. Thus it is that in our current crisis, men and women of good will across the world are supporting and applauding the work of the weapons inspectors of the United Nations. Their task is difficult. No one will deny this. But it is also essential. The truth of the danger must be established beyond any doubt.

And should that truth be set clearly before us, the second and third of Pope John’s “requirements of the human spirit” come into play. If clear and present danger cannot be demonstrated, justice requires that no conflict be engaged.

In our time, in virtually every corner of the globe, there is a moral parallel to all of this, a clear and very sad parallel. No one has ever been able to prove that the being within the mother’s womb is other than an innocent human being with an inalienable right to live. For this reason, that being may not and must not be killed. Without certitude, we are never free to destroy life, whether in abortion or in war. Justice must always rule when life is in the balance.

And when the clear and present danger is confirmed, even then Blessed John XXIII has another “requirement of the human spirit” to commend to our attention — compassion. We proceed in all of our dealings with our brothers and sisters under God with justice, yes, but also with concern, understanding and charity. We do not rush into conflict. We enter into it, if we must, with measure, with moderation, and with respect for every child of God, every image of Divinity in our midst.

Truth, justice, and compassion — these are the three “requirements of the human spirit” that Pope John XXIII proposed to the world on the brink of conflict 40 years ago; and he added that they must be brought into play on the basis of his fourth requirement, freedom.

We are all fashioned in the image and likeness of the Almighty and endowed with the capacity to know and to choose. This makes us the noblest of the Lord’s visible creation, and it lays upon us a great burden as well. Before our God and our fellow human beings, we address the issue of war as wise, thoughtful, prayerful children of the one Father in heaven. We exercise our freedom in a manner worthy of our dignity, that is, with truth, justice and compassion. And all of this we do, trusting in a loving, provident God, and guided by a wise and caring Church.

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