Catholic News Service photo
Pope John XXIII signs encyclical Pacem in Terris in 1963.
Catholic News Service photo
Pope John XXIII signs encyclical Pacem in Terris in 1963.

One of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council was issued 50 years ago and is being remembered at a University of Portland conference set for Oct. 25-26.

Pacem in Terris, "Peace on Earth," is seen by many as the first truly modern papal encyclical and was the first encyclical addressed to the entire human community.

Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized in April, called on “all people of good will” to learn to "read the signs of the times" in order to understand how the People of God are being called to respond to issues of injustice in the modern world.

"The encyclical raises deep, ethical issues concerning how to live in 'right order' between human beings, nature, God, and the diversity and pluralism of the world's cultures," says Michael Andrews, a professor of philosophy and dean of UP's College of Arts and Sciences.

The encyclical, written at the outset of Vatican II, prompted questions we still ponder in the 21st century: What are the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus amid modern technology? How do we approach the production and use of weapons of mass destruction? What is our responsibility toward refugees, immigrants and women? How does the world move toward access to healthcare, clean water and food? How do we defend religious freedom? Do little-regulated capital markets serve humans well?

At its roots, says Andrews, Pacem in Terris is an appeal to conscience and the common good.  

"Recent statements from Pope Francis concerning the responsibility of wealthy nations to the care of the poor and the protection of the Earth are very much inspired by John XXIII's personal and spiritual journey as a witness for peace and justice," says Andrews.

Archbishop Alexander Sample will deliver opening remarks at 5 p.m. Friday. Four speakers then will examine the document and its legacy.    

Jesuit Father Richard Ryscavage will speak about global human development and the evolution of Catholic social teaching. A professor of sociology at Fairfield University, Father Ryscavage is an expert on immigration and refugees. He is now leading a national study on undocumented students in U.S. colleges. He is former director of the U.S. bishops' Office for Migration and Refugee Services and has served on the Vatican delegation to the United Nations.

Holy Cross Brother Dave Andrews will discuss Catholic social teaching and energy policy. Longtime director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, he supported rural congregations and helped farm communities develop good stewardship for land. He now helps several organizations approach faith groups about wise and sustainable food choices. He has spoken out for farmers and peasants at World Food Summits and before the World Trade Organization.

Retired Bishop William Skylstad will explore right ordering of relationships in the environment. Former Bishop of Spokane, he was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2004 to 2007 and has served as a member of the bishops' committees on peace and justice and ecumenical and religious affairs. He was primary author of the Northwest bishops' statement calling for good stewardship of the Columbia River watershed.

Cheryle Kennedy will give a talk titled "Walking the Tribal Way." A member of the tribal council of the Grand Ronde, Kennedy comes from a family of weavers, beaders, carvers, fishers and hunters. She is a longtime advocate for justice for tribal people and was appointed by the Oregon Legislature to the state's Commission on Indian Services. She also has served on the board of the Oregon Business Association and was a consultant on the Oregon Health Plan.

The conference, which includes prayer times, runs Friday 5 p.m.-9 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. in Buckley Center auditorium.