Democracy Without Values Threatens Peace

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

November 8, 1996 talk given to those taking part in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Your Eminences, Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, Dear Friends,

1. I am pleased to meet you and to express my deep gratitude for the work of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Your meeting has taken place before the inauguration of the three years of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. This exceptional event profoundly inspires your dicastery's programme of work, so that the world may experience a time of justice and peace in Christ.

In particular, I thank your President, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, for his words and for his tireless zeal in the missions he undertakes in the name of the Holy See to bring words and deeds of peace to those who have been wounded by the scourge of war and by so many social forms of poverty. I would also like to thank his active coworkers for their daily service. As an organ of the Holy See, the Council for Justice and Peace contributes widely to disseminating the Church's social teaching. The contribution of its reflections has been valuable and has enriched the Holy See's participation in the international community's activities in recent years.

2. The central theme of your plenary assembly is the relationship between democracy and values, to which I have frequently referred. It involves a range of the most timely and decisive issues for preserving and improving democratic systems.

The Church's social doctrine condemns all forms of totalitarianism because they deny the "transcendent dignity of the human person" (Centesimus annus, n. 44); and moreover, she expresses her esteem for democratic systems (cf. ibid., n. 46), conceived to guarantee the citizens' participation (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 75), according to the wise criterion of the principle of subsidiarily. This principle presupposes that the political system recognizes the essential role of individuals, families and different groups which make up society.

Nevertheless, one source of concern appears: in many countries, democracy, whether it has been long-established or recently introduced, can be endangered by viewpoints or conduct inspired by indifference or relativism in the area of morals, ignoring the true value of the human person. A democracy that is not based on the values proper to human nature risks compromising the peace and development of peoples.

3. Christians are called to react to these situations with the strength that comes to them from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and from the enlightening patrimony of the Church's social doctrine. The lay faithful are particularly responsible for enriching the democratic process of peoples with human and Christian values, by relying on intelligent and continuous educational activity. They must teach honesty, solidarity, attention to the most deprived, "life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments" (Centesimus annus, n. 36).

By being clearly based on the values of the eminent dignity of the human person, current reflection on the democratic system should not only take political systems and institutions into consideration, but it should also include the whole of society and the economy of work (cf. Paul VI, Octogesima adveniens, n. 47), if an authentic and complete concept of democracy is to be formed.

4. In this perspective, where democracy and the economy are appropriately linked, I would like to draw your attention to the issue of the international debt, since a decisive contribution by those who are called Christians to resolving this problem reasonably would be an eloquent sign of the conversion of hearts, an essential element of the Great Jubilee. You know that the debt problem aggravates the social situation in numerous countries and that it is a critical mortgage on the democratic development of their political and economic systems, since it prevents all hope for a more human future.

The international community, disturbed to see the networks of solidarity disintegrate, has begun to think responsibly about this subject which is so important for the good of humanity, in order to arrive at concrete and reasonable solutions. With regard to these promising commitments, I would like here to express the esteem and encouragement of the Church, which for her part is determined to pursue her efforts to enlighten those who must make these weighty decisions.

Ten years ago the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace had already formulated some clear and far-sighted proposals in its courageous document on the international debt (27 December 1986). In confirming this type of advisory role today, I entrust the Council with the responsibility of updating and working out suggestions and guidelines within the spiritual and cultural framework of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I am convinced that I can count on your generous availability in searching for solutions which will lead to alleviating the state of poverty of our many brothers and sisters and which will motivate a world that needs to rediscover the time for sharing and solidarity, particularly at the international level.

As I ask Mary for her motherly support for these tasks and concerns, I cordially bless your Dioceses, your countries and your families.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 November 1996

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