Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

By Michael M. Canaris

I have some good friends and colleagues involved with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, as well as that of Promoting Christian Unity. I was able to enjoy a dinner with a few of them here in Rome this week during the former’s recent plenary assembly.

Justice and Peace (“Giustizia e Pace” in Italian, or “Iustitia et Pax” in Latin) was founded by Pope Paul VI in 1967 after the close of the Second Vatican Council. In the apostolic constitution on the curia Pastor Bonus, J&P is charged with promoting justice and peace in the world, in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the church.

One of its main responsibilities is to heighten awareness of the need to promote peace, above all on the World Day of Peace.

Justice and Peace has as its undersecretary the curia’s highest ranking lay woman, Flaminia Giovanelli, and as its president Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, of Ghana. In addition to theologians, bishops and lay people from around the world, its members include prominent Cardinals Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Monsengwo Pasinya (Dem. Rep. of Congo), George Pell (Australia) and Reinhard Marx (Germany), along with others.

In addressing the work of J&P this week, Pope Francis spoke of both his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and Pope Benedict’s earlier encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He claimed three basic instruments of “social inclusion” inspired by these documents can provide assets for helping those most in need: “education, access to health care, and work for all.”

These three “are key elements for the development and the fair distribution of goods” he said, “for the achievement of social justice; for belonging to society and participating freely and responsibly in political life, understood as the management of the res publica. Visions that claim to increase profitability, at the cost of the restriction of the labor market that creates new excluded [people], do not conform to an economy at the service of humanity and the common good, to an inclusive and participatory democracy.”

The work of J&P is firmly rooted in the church’s tradition, whether it be in documents like Rerum Novarum, Pacem in Terris, Populorum Progressio and Centesimus Annus, or in more ancient sources like Augustine, Aquinas, and of course the Gospels themselves: “‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, after his resurrection stood in the midst of his disciples and said: Peace be upon you, alleluia. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.’ It is Christ, therefore, who brought us peace; Christ who bequeathed it to us: ‘Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.’”

The tireless work of J&P tries to extend that peace in ever new contexts to a fractured and war-weary world obviously in dire need of it today. In fact, there are rumors that Pope Francis, the universal head and driving force behind J&P, has been reported to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in fostering justice and eradicating violence around the globe. No pope has ever won the award.

Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.

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