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July 24, 2014
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Current Concerns  >  2007  >  No 7, 2007  >  “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace” [printversion]

“The Human Person, the Heart of Peace”

Public lecture during the visit to Malta by His Eminence Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino

I am very pleased to be here in Malta to share with you the grace of Christian friendship and the common task enjoined on us by the Gospel, the task of promoting justice and peace in the world. The people of Malta are well known for their rich and solid traditions of faith and charity, which on this happy occasion are once more confirmed in a significant and important manner. In this first meeting, it was proposed that I present a conference on the theme “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace”. As you know, this is the title of the Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Peace this year. To address this theme, I thought it useful to present an overview of the Pope’s Message, which constantly links the truth of the human person to the truth of peace. In fact, at the beginning of the Message, in No. 1, the Holy Father states that “respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism”. The human person and peace are mutual points of reference in a productive reciprocity that represents the precondition and firm foundation for a correct cultural, social and political approach to the complex issues concerning peace in our day.

The Pope’s Message is presented in three parts, each of which deals progressively with the theme of the human person in relation to various aspects of the promotion of peace. In the first part, emphasis is placed on the meaning and value of the connection between the human person and peace, both of which are understood and presented in the theological-spiritual categories of gift and task. In the second part, the truth of the human person is seen in relation to the new and innovative concept of an ecology of peace. In the third part, the truth of the human person is considered with reference to the complex reality of respecting fundamental human rights, international humanitarian law and certain responsibilities that necessarily arise in the activities undertaken by international organizations. The Message concludes with an invitation to Christians to become peace-makers.

Following an introduction, the first part of the Message runs from Nos. 2 to 7, and opens with a citation from Sacred Scripture that affirms that the human person is created by God, made in his image and likeness: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). In light of these words of the Bible on the truth about man, the Pope’s Message sees the foundation of human dignity in the fact that people are created in the image of God. In this perspective, the human person “is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others. At the same time, each person is called, by grace, to a covenant with the Creator, called to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his place” (No. 2). Created by God, “man too is God’s gift to man”1; but as a creature given to himself, man carries within himself a task: he is, in fact, charged with the task of fulfilling himself and giving concrete shape to a world renewed in justice and in peace. Our Holy Father quotes here a passage from a homily of Saint Augustine, which very effectively and concisely sums up the truth about man understood as a gift and a task. The Saint from Hippo declares that “God created us without our aid; but he did not choose to save us without our aid”2. The twofold awareness of gift and task is therefore a characteristic that is naturally inherent in all men and women, because in everyone is found this mark of our common origin and this sign of our common goal, to which all people strive in order to reach the full truth of their being as human persons.

The Pope’s Message places peace in this anthropological frame, presenting peace itself as a gift and as a task. Before anything else, it is a gift. The statement is made in No. 3 of the Message that: “Peace is an aspect of God’s activity, made manifest both in the creation of an orderly and harmonious universe and also in the redemption of humanity that needs to be rescued from the disorder of sin. Creation and Redemption thus provide a key that helps us begin to understand the meaning of our life on earth.” Peace as a gift also entails a task. Referring to a famous passage of the speech given by John Paul II to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1995, Pope Benedict XVI states that “the transcendent ‘grammar’, that is to say the body of rules for individual action and the reciprocal relationships of persons in accordance with justice and solidarity, is inscribed on human consciences, in which the wise plan of God is reflected. As I recently had occasion to reaffirm: ‘we believe that at the beginning of everything is the Eternal Word, Reason and not Unreason’3. Peace is thus also a task demanding of everyone a personal response consistent with God’s plan” (No. 3). Respecting the grammar of the world and of human nature: this is the criterion that must guide and direct the task of peace. Working together for peace means accepting God’s plan of wisdom for the world and for humanity, and striving to make this plan a reality, without pretenses of self-sufficiency but in an attitude of obedience to God.

From the perspective found in the Pope’s Message, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, if this dialogue is to be aimed at promoting peace, must be based on the recognition of the transcendental order of things. In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of a very important and even decisive point, particularly when this point is considered in the overall context of Catholic moral teaching: to make progress in the area of peace, today’s humanity must bear in mind that the norms of natural law “should not be viewed as externally imposed decrees, as restraints upon human freedom. Rather, they should be welcomed as a call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings. Guided by these norms, all peoples – within their respective cultures – can draw near to the greatest mystery, which is the mystery of God. Today too, recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers. As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for a uthentic peace” (No. 3).

In the context of this demanding theological and cultural perspective, our Holy Father tells us that certain goods are and must remain inalienable; we are speaking here of the right to life and the right to religious freedom. In what sense are these goods to be considered inalienable? We can sum up the Holy Father’s response in the following words: respect of the right to life in all its stages places people before nature understood as a gift; people cannot simply do with nature and life what they please; the right to religious freedom opens nature to a foundation that transcends nature itself and, in this case also, removes nature from people’s arbitrary will. Peace needs this inalienability. Respect for life and of the right to express one’s faith in God is in fact what makes it possible for individuals and peoples to come together concerning those things that lie beyond their power. On the basis of a consensus of what is not within their power, people can begin to agree on what is within their power. In the context of such considerations, our Holy Father expresses some very concrete concerns: the first has to do with what he calls the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on embryos, euthanasia; the second has to do with the difficulties experienced by Christians, and also the followers of other religions, in exercising the right to the free expression of their faith. Particularly interesting in this regard is the timely reference to situations in which the right to religious freedom is either compromised or denied. In some cases, obstacles to the exercise of religious freedom are put in place by religiously inspired political regimes that impose a sole religious faith on people; in other cases, obstacles arise from regimes that are indifferent to religion and that foster, not a violent persecution, but a systematic cultural disdain of things connected with faith. In both cases, a fundamental human right is not respected, with serious consequences for the peaceful coexistence of peoples.

The first part of the Pope’s Message concludes with a very important reminder, in Nos. 6 and 7, of the equal nature of all human beings. This theme is presented in two timely reminders: the first refers to the social inequalities present in our world that seem more and more to be the modern characteristics of the immense problem of the extreme poverty of billions of men and women, who – above all on the continent of Africa – are denied access to essential goods of life such as food, water, shelter, health; the second has to do with the inequalities between men and women. In this regard, the Pope says in his Message: “I think of the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and of the many ways that a lack of respect is shown for their dignity; I also think – in a different context – of the mindset persisting in some cultures, where women are still firmly subordinated to the arbitrary decisions of men, with grave consequences for their personal dignity and for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms” (No. 7). Social inequalities and those of gender are causes for concern when we consider the present instability of peace.

The second part of the Pope’s Message is found in Nos. 8 through 11, and has to do with the innovative concept of an ecology of peace, which, in this Message of Benedict XVI, represents an original development of the concept of human ecology found in John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus. The memorable Servant of God wrote: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed”4. Benedict XVI teaches that if humanity takes peace to heart, then it must always pay closer attention to the connections between natural ecology, that is the respect of nature, and human ecology, on which society is organized. One of the most obvious characteristics of our age is the fact that every attitude that fails to respect the natural environment brings harm upon the human and social environment and vice-versa. Peace increasingly shows itself to be the inseparable bond that unites two different aspects of peace, peace with creation and peace among people. Both of these aspects require peace with God. Saint Francis’ Laude Creaturarum, his poetic prayer known also as “The Canticle of Brother Sun”, is an admirable example – and still very relevant today – of this twofold ecology of peace.

Our Holy Father illustrates the concept of the ecology of peace connecting it with the problem of energy and energy supplies, a problem that is characteristic of our modern age. New, populous nations, in fact, have entered into industrial production and thus the need for energy has also increased. We are witnessing a new race for energy resources, a race that is very significant in the vast quantity of resources involved. In the meantime, many of our planet’s nations are still living as pre-industrial societies and their development is hindered by energy costs that are rising because of this new race for resources. The Holy Father asks: “What will happen to those peoples? What kind of development or non-development will be imposed on them by the scarcity of energy supplies? What injustices and conflicts will be provoked by the race for energy sources? And what will be the reaction of those who are excluded from this race?” (No. 9). These questions clearly show how the problem of the relation with nature is closely connected with the establishment of ecological human relationships among people and nations, that is, relationships that respect human dignity and authentic human needs. The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the land and its resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because these are the consequences of poorly built societies and of an inhumane concept of development. The Pope states that: “Indeed, if development were limited to the technical-economic aspect, obscuring the moral-religious dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man’s destructive capacities” (No. 9).

In Nos. 10 and 11, our Holy Father gives the foundation of the ecology of peace and the basis on which the tree of peace is to grow. With trust and hope he helps us to understand that it is possible to nurture the growth of this tree, despite the great difficulties encountered in the world and the misunderstandings present among peoples and nations. It is possible, provided that we allow ourselves to be guided by a correct vision of the human person that is as all­encompassing as possible, because when men and women are viewed in a reductive manner, without their full value and dignity being acknowledged, the cost is often conflict. The broadest possible vision of the human person is a vision that is capable of looking at people themselves without ideological or cultural prejudices. Peace can be threatened by opposing visions of what the human person is. Important also is the following statement by the Holy Father: “Equally unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God’s name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology” (No. 10). The Pope points out that it is unacceptable to wage war in the name of God and it is unacceptable to wage it in the name of man. War can have no theological or anthropological justification. When a certain concept of God or a particular vision of man becomes, according to its own line of reasoning, a motivation for war, such a concept or vision has already been transformed into an ideology.

Today, however, peace is not only threatened by the conflict between reductive visions of man, or by ideologies. The Pope’s Message tells us that peace becomes difficult also because of indifference towards what constitutes the true nature of man. Admitting that a human nature exist is already problematic for many people, others absolutely deny that such a nature exists at all, giving rise to all kinds of interpretations of man. This type of attitude is very dangerous for peace, which cannot be built in a vacuum or in indifference, because in such cases mutual recognition will be merely formal, a simple convention, something temporary. A “weak” vision of the human person may appear to foster peace, inasmuch as it seems to leave room for all kinds of viewpoints. The reality, however, is that it fosters conflict because it leaves the way open for the power of force. The human person is left defenseless and, therefore, susceptible to violence.

The third part of the Pope’s Message is found in Nos. 12 through 15. For clarity of presentation, I shall limit myself to making a few brief comments on the more significant passages.

In the first place, Pope Benedict states that a true and stable peace presupposes respect for human rights, firmly based on a strong conception of the human person. If these rights are founded on a weak conception of the human person, they themselves will be weak. Thus, the greatest contradiction of a subjectivist and relativistic, and therefore weak, vision of human rights is the following: human rights are put forth as absolute, but without the weight of a rational foundation that justifies their absolute nature. Human rights are the expression of what is required by human nature as it originates in Creation. They tell us what man needs in his existence so that he may be himself in dignity. They tell us how man is to be treated in conformity with his dignity. Human rights cannot resist the continuous attacks to which they are subjected if their meaning is not continually rediscovered. Repeating a teaching that is ever present in social doctrine, Pope Benedict says that “it goes without saying, moreover, that human rights imply corresponding duties. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi said wisely: ‘The Ganges of rights flows from the Himalaya of duties’” (No. 12).

In the second place, Benedict XVI makes an appeal to the original vocation of international organizations – and above all of the United Nations – encouraging them to be champions of the promotion of human rights, a promotion that must constantly draw its inspiration from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been called the moral task of all humanity. Our Holy Father’s words are of great significance: “It is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights. Were that to happen, the international bodies would end up lacking the necessary authority to carry out their role as defenders of the fundamental rights of the person and of peoples, the chief justification for their very existence and activity” (No. 13).

In the third place, Benedict XVI speaks again this year of the value of international humanitarian law, ignored in the conflict in Lebanon and in the unprecedented acts of violence and war committed by terrorists. In this regard too the reflections of Benedict XVI, inspired by realism and trust, are of great significance and importance: “In the face of the disturbing events of recent years, States cannot fail to recognize the need to establish clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing. War always represents a failure for the international community and a grave loss for humanity. When, despite every effort, war does break out, at least the essential principles of humanity and the basic values of all civil coexistence must be safeguarded; norms of conduct must be established that limit the damage as far as possible and help to alleviate the suffering of civilians and of all the victims of conflicts” (No. 14).

Finally, we find the Pope’s note of concern at the fact that certain countries have shown the desire to obtain nuclear weapons, thus increasing a widespread climate of uncertainty and fear because of a possible nuclear catastrophe. In this regard too the suggestion put forth by Benedict XVI is illuminating: “The way to ensure a future of peace for everyone is found not only in international accords for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also in the determined commitment to seek their reduction and definitive dismantling. May every attempt be made to arrive through negotiation at the attainment of these objectives! The fate of the whole human family is at stake!” (No. 15).

The conclusion of Benedict XVI’s Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace is completely dedicated to Catholics, who are invited to be tireless peace-makers and fervent defeders of the dignity of the human person. The task of peace for Catholics arises from their belonging to the Church, which, in the world, is “a sign and a safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person”5. The awareness of belonging to the Church is to be lived in an attitude of generous dedication to others, especially those who suffer poverty or privations and who lack the precious good that is peace. Christians find the supreme reason for being authentic men and women of peace and staunch defenders of human dignity in their faith in Jesus Christ, who revealed that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and that love is the greatest vocation of any person. The Pope dedicates the final words of his Message to two great social encyclicals with the following statement: “Let every believer, then, unfailingly contribute to the advancement of a true integral humanism in accordance with the teachings of the Encyclical Letters Populorum Progressio and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, whose respective fortieth and twentieth anniversaries we prepare to celebrate this year” (No. 17). Thank you!

Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino 

President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace Malta, 16 February 2007



1 JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 38.

2 SAINT AUGUSTINE, Sermo 169, 11, 13: PL 38, 923.

3 Homily at Islinger Feld in Regensburg (12 September 2006).

4 JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 38.

5 Gaudium et Spes, 76.

H.E. Renato Raffaele Cardinal MARTINO

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Cardinal Martino was born in Salerno (Italy) on 23 November 1932. He has a doctorate in canon law and speaks Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

He was ordained a priest on 27 June 1957 and entered the Diplomatic Service of the Holy See on 1 July 1962.

He worked in the nunciature in Nicaragua, then the Philippines, then Lebanon, then Brazil, before being appointed Pro-Nuncio in Thailand and Apostolic Delegate in Laos, Malaysia and Singapore on 14 September 1980. He was consecrated as Archbishop of the titular see of Segerme on 14 December 1980 in Rome by Cardinal Casaroli, Secretary of State. Pope John Paul II appointed him Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on 1 October 2002.

Pope John Paul II elevated him to the College of Cardinals on 21 October 2003.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

«The Council will promote justice and peace in the world, in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the Church (art. 142).

§ 1. It will deepen the social doctrine of the Church and attempt to make it widely known and applied, both by individuals and communities, especially as regards relations between workers and employers. These relations must be increasingly marked by the spirit of the Gospel.

§ 2. It will assemble and evaluate various types of information and the results of research on justice and peace, the development of peoples and the violations of human rights. When appropriate, it will inform Episcopal bodies of the conclusions drawn. It will foster relations with international Catholic organizations and with other bodies, be they Catholic or not, that are sincerely committed to the promotion of the values of justice and peace in the world.

§ 3. It will heighten awareness of the need to promote peace, above all on the occasion of the World Day of Peace (art. 143).

It will maintain close relations with the Secretariat of State, especially when it deals publicly with problems of justice and peace in its documents or declarations (art. 144)“.

The primary work of the Pontifical Council is to engage in action-oriented studies based on both the papal and episcopal social teaching of the Church. Through them, the Pontifical Council also contributes to the development of this teaching in the following vast fields:

JUSTICE. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is concerned with all that touches upon social justice, the world of work, international life, development in general and social development in particular. It also promotes ethical reflection on the evolution of economic and financial systems and addresses problems related to the environment and the responsible use of the earth‘s resources.

PEACE. The Pontifical Council reflects on a broad range of questions related to war, disarmament and the arms trade, international security, and violence in its various and everchanging forms (terrorism, exaggerated nationalism etc.). It also considers the question of political systems and the role of Catholics in the political arena. It is responsible for the promotion of the World Day of Peace.

HUMAN RIGHTS. This question has assumed increasing importance in the mission of the Church and consequently in the work of the Pontifical Council. Pope John Paul II consistently stresses that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of the promotion and defense of his or her inalienable rights. The Council deals with the subject from three perspectives: deepening the doctrinal aspect, dealing with questions under discussion in international organizations, showing concern for the victims of the violation of human rights.

Source: PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE