Pope John XXIII, seen in an undated portrait, convoked the Second Vatican Council but died before the council completed its work. He was elected pope Oct. 28, 1958 and died June 3, 1963. (CNS file photo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the Catholic Church increases its new evangelization efforts and works for justice and peace in the world, it would be wise to imitate the positive, prophetic approach taken by Blessed John XXIII in his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” a French archbishop said.

Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon addressed the opening session April 27 of a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which was holding the second of three planned meetings preparing to mark the 50th anniversary next year of “Pacem in Terris,” the encyclical “on establishing peace in truth, justice, charity and liberty.”

Mary Ann Glendon, a professor of law at Harvard University and president of the academy, told members their study and discussions would be focused on “the role of religion in the quest for a ‘tranquility of order’ in our increasingly complex and conflict-ridden world.”

Archbishop Minnerath said the encyclical had an unusually positive and popular reception around the world, first of all because it was the first encyclical addressed to “all men of good will.”

In addition, he said, it tapped into people’s yearning for peace at the height of the Cold War, the emerging independence of former colonies in Africa and Asia, and widespread economic growth, he said.

In fact, Russell Hittinger, a professor at the University of Tulsa, Okla., and organizer of the academy meeting, said that with “Pacem in Terris” in 1963, “the New York Times — for the first and the last time — printed a papal encyclical in its entirety.”

Archbishop Minnerath said, “The well-chosen title gave rise to an immense surge of hope that the great cleavages dividing humanity could be overcome.”

The encyclical made the social teaching of the Catholic Church accessible to millions of people; explained how the church saw natural law — the conception of right and wrong accessible to human reason — as related to human nature and human dignity; affirmed the freedom of conscience; and supported the United Nations as a worldwide authority that could end conflicts between nations, the archbishop said.

In his encyclical, Pope John recognized the growing rights of the working class, the advancement of women, the spread of democracy and a growing conviction that war was not a way to obtain justice, he said.

At its core, Archbishop Minnerath said, the encyclical taught that a peaceful world order could be achieved only if it were built on truth and justice, perfected by love for and solidarity with others and only if it guaranteed people’s freedom.

The archbishop told the academy that the church and the world today need prophets like Blessed John XXIII who can help people recognize that God continues to act in the world in order to save them and that they have rights and responsibilities in the quest for peace.

After his speech, Archbishop Minnerath told Catholic News Service that the church and individual Catholics can take one of two approaches to the world: “pick out what is wrong and spend all your time condemning it,” or pick out the positive and help people build on and improve it. “That’s what Jesus did.”

“If we want to have a message for the whole world, we must touch the heart of people — what they really need, what they really feel, what they really want. But, at the same time, it must be a word that comes from God, because we are ministers of God,” he said.

The Catholic Church believes that every good and noble aspiration in the human heart was placed there by God, he said. Being prophetic obviously “does not mean endorsing every desire,” but challenging people to desire what is good, to recognize what they have in common and providing them with a vision of a future in which peace and justice are really possible.

Tapping into the God-given desires of humanity today “is really very simple,” he said. “Ask anybody in this world. They want to be recognized as human beings with dignity. Dignity is at the core of our identity as human beings.”

“Freedom is the second point. Everybody wants to be free to discover what is best, what is true,” he said. “And then, each person wants to have an opportunity to develop his conscience, culture and knowledge.”

Archbishop Minnerath said Pope John’s insistence that charity — love — is one of the four pillars of a just and peaceful world is not sentimental, but factually true. “Without love there is no humanity. Human beings are made to work together in love and that means mutual acceptance and each one doing his or her best to improve the situation of the other.”

— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service