How to Sustain a Lasting Peace

Interview with Philosopher Jesús Villagrasa

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ROME, FEB. 27, 2003 (Zenit.org).- What guidelines for world peace can the Church offer amid the debate over Iraq?



For a perspective on the crisis, ZENIT interviewed philosopher Father Jesús Villagrasa, who gave an address entitled "Pacem in Terris, Dramatic Actuality and Permanent Endeavor," at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, on the principles that sustain a lasting peace.

Q: The present international situation seems very different from that of the beginning of the 1960s, when John XXIII wrote the encyclical "Pacem in Terris," to which John Paul II dedicated the Message for the World Day of Peace 2003.

Father Villagrasa: Perhaps not so much. The euphoria of 1989 passed, when the Berlin Wall fell, symbol of the separation of the blocs confronted during the Cold War years and when Chateaubriand's famous phrase following the Napoleonic wars was repeated: "It might be said that the old world is ending and the new one beginning."

In fact, the leaders of the victorious superpower proclaimed the dawn of a "new world order" in which "the reign of law and not the law of the jungle" was going to prevail. The grandiose plan of the new world order, founded on democracy, the free market and global security seemed visible without the threat of nuclear terror and of Communist oppression.

In his book "The End of History," Francis Fukuyama looks forward to times of peace and prosperity with the triumph of democracy and the free market. This idyllic vision has not been realized. Freedom is more difficult to acquire and peace less certain than one might think.

Q: What signs are there of the crumbling of the new world order?

Father Villagrasa: The economy, politics, and defense function in great disorder. The world economy has disconnected and impoverished those who have not known how or have not been able to be added to the global markets.

The financial crises of Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, and Argentina in 2001 have shown the weaknesses of the global financial system. Large business groups, at times created by mergers, have exploded like soap bubbles: Enron, AOL Warner, WorldCom.

In Iraq's crisis a political authority has been lacking capable of guaranteeing international law and peace; and the U.N., NATO, and European Union reveal profound divisions. Relations among the great civilizations are threatened by fundamentalism in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Outbreaks of intolerance explode in the multicultural cities of the West.

The growing economic, technological and computer interdependence of the planet have also empowered the threats to global security. The attacks on the Twin Towers showed in all its crudeness the evil of an international terrorism that can strike without scruples, and with awful cruelty and facility.

In a not-too-distant future, this terrorism could have at its disposal without much difficulty, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Given these new threats, recourse has been taken to the theory of the "preventive war," which causes serious moral reservations in large sectors.

Q: Why has the plan for a new world order not worked out, and why is the world in such a state of disorder?

Father Villagrasa: The answer is simple but full of consequences. A moral order has been lacking that would direct and sustain the economic, political, cultural and military order. This is the relevance of the content of "Pacem in Terris."

In his Message for this year's World Day of Peace, which recalls the encyclical, John Paul II has posed very serious questions: "What kind of order can replace this disorder, so that men and women can live in freedom, justice and security? And since the world, amid its disorder, continues nevertheless to be 'ordered' and organized in various ways -- economic, cultural, even political -- there arises another equally urgent question: On what principles are these new forms of world order unfolding? These far-reaching questions suggest that the problem of order in world affairs, which is the problem of peace rightly understood, cannot be separated from issues of moral principle."

Without a moral order, great projects, such as Communism or unbridled capitalism, are constructions that seem solid, but which in reality are very weak because they don't have foundations; they are like the enormous statue in King Nebuchadnezzar's vision: of extraordinary brilliance and terrible countenance; his head was of pure gold, his chest and arms of silver, his abdomen and loins of bronze, his legs of iron, his feet part iron and part clay. But it was enough to strike his feet with a stone and it was pulverized like chaff on the threshing floor in summer, which the wind blows away without leaving a trace.

Q: Concretely, what would be those moral foundations for peaceful civil coexistence and a new world order worthy of man?

Father Villagrasa: "Pacem in Terris" proposes four: truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.

It states realistically that war is no longer an apt means to compensate for a violated right in the international realm, and that differences that might eventually emerge among peoples and nations, must be resolved through negotiations and agreements.

It postulates realistically that for the promotion of the "universal common good" the constitution of a public authority at the international level is necessary, which should not be instituted through coercion or force, but through the consent of nations. It must not be a super-state, but must respect the principle of subsidiarity and the authority proper to each state.

Q: In other words, you are speaking about a preventive peace?

Father Villagrasa: The dreams in 1989 of a universal peace were, perhaps, only that -- dreams. Peace is a gift of heaven that must be prayed for, but it is also a "permanent endeavor," a conquest.

Some agree with the saying "If you want peace, prepare for war." It is more realistic, human and Christian to think, "If you don't want war, prepare for peace."

Peace is much greater than no armed aggression. Peace, the last Council said, is not the mere absence of war, nor is it reduced only to the balance of opposing forces, nor does it arise from a despotic hegemony, but with all exactness and propriety it is called the work of justice.

Q: Can the Church do something other than teach moral principles?

Father Villagrasa: The principal mission of the Church is evangelization and it includes the teaching of these principles. But it does more. The Church is mobilizing all its spiritual energies, especially prayer and penance for peace.

The Holy See is tirelessly deploying the good arts of its diplomacy. The Church does not formulate concrete solutions nor does it replace those who govern in making decisions.

It limits itself to instructing and enlightening the conscience of the faithful, especially the conscience of those who have the heavy duty, which cannot be delegated, to govern temporal affairs.

As "Pacem in Terris" did, it exhorts Catholics to participate actively in public life and to cooperate in the progress of the common good of humanity.

A Catholic who limits himself to lament the present disorder, to declare himself a pacifist at all costs, and does nothing to give a Gospel input to temporal realities, does not render a good service to the cause of peace, which is the work of justice.