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Benedict XVI on the Path to Peace (Part 1)

Paolo Carozza Comments on Pontiff's Message

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, JAN. 11, 2007 (Zenit) - On the World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI warned that the path to peace will be uncertain and wayward if it is not paved with a "true integral humanism."

According to Paolo Carozza, the words of Benedict XVI reaffirm what Pope John Paul II had said about peace being the fruit of relationships of justice and solidarity.

Carozza, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, shared with us how Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of Peace highlighted the role of principles such as the dignity of life, religious freedom and equality among all persons in working toward peace.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

Q: The title of Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of Peace, "The Human Person, the Heart of Peace," addresses the rights and dignity of the human person as the path to peace. In what ways does this confront the conventional wisdom of the international diplomatic community?

Carozza: There certainly is a sharp difference between this vision and an approach to peace based merely on the diplomatic, economic, and military relations between sovereign states that some approaches to international peace and security would emphasize. Nevertheless, there is an important sense in which Benedict XVI's point is not new, but in fact picks up and strengthens an understanding of the path to peace that has been present to a significant degree in global affairs at least since World War II.

The architects of the post-1945 international order were highly conscious of the relationship between outrages to the dignity of the human person and the tragedy of war, and that link can already be seen clearly in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the Pope himself recognizes in the message.

In fact, I would say that in much of the world the strong connection between peace and the rights and dignity of the person is now accepted as self-evident. One can see it in the way that the language and politics of human rights has permeated everything from international trade to post-conflict institution building to environmental protection.

Where Benedict XVI goes much further than the prevailing mentality is in his insistence that it is not enough to simply assert -- however correctly -- the link between peace and human dignity. To make that connection real and concrete, not just an abstract ideal or intuition of the truth, one needs to cultivate an adequate and objective understanding of what the human person is, and what human dignity requires.

Benedict XVI thus takes us back to what Mary Ann Glendon has referred to as the "unfinished business" of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the question of its foundations. For 60 years the international community has largely proceeded to try to develop and realize human rights though positive law while prescinding from any sustained effort to reach common understandings of their underlying source and scope.

In short, the difference between the vision in Benedict XVI's message and the conventional wisdom of international affairs is not so much in the affirmation that the dignity and rights of the human person are the path to peace, but rather in the Pope's warning that that path will be uncertain, unstable and wayward without a "true integral humanism" that embraces the whole human person as a concrete, given reality -- without reduction, without manipulation, and without ideology.

Q: Natural law is a central theme in the Pope's message, and he sees it as a point of convergence among the various cultures and civilizations, rather than a peculiarly Western idea. Why is natural law an important component for peace?

Carozza: Perhaps the most eloquent answer to this question is not in the words of the Pope's message or in any explanation of it that we could give, but in the witness of his presence in Turkey and the way that in great simplicity he was able to bridge what seems to many an unfathomable chasm in human understanding. He did so by a profound appreciation for and firm focus on what is common to every human heart.

In that recognition of our common humanity lies the only path to a peace that is more than merely the absence of violent conflict. As John Paul II often emphasized and Benedict XVI reaffirms in this message, peace is the fruit of relationships of justice and solidarity, a mutual and genuine commitment to the good of one another. And that commitment only arises out of the mutual recognition of what we share -- the original needs and desires of every human heart.

Thus Benedict XVI stresses that the personal commitment that is required of us to renew the world in peace and justice can only be realized on the basis of "respect for the 'grammar' written on human hearts by the Creator."

Recognition of the natural law is essential not in the first instance as a set of moral rules or restraints, but simply as an acknowledgment of certain truths about every human being and of what is conducive to human flourishing because of the way that we have all been created.

Or to see it from the contrary perspective, one cannot build peace -- in the thick sense of relationships of justice and solidarity -- on the basis of false or weak and uncertain notions of what constitutes the fulfillment of the human heart. On the contrary, as the Pope points out, such relativism invites the victory of power over truth and freedom.

Q: It seems implicit that Benedict XVI's exhortations to reconsider and take seriously the role of reason require a major engagement with the natural law. Because the dialogue of cultures hinges on the acceptance of reason, how can the Church help other cultures, religions and societies engage the natural law tradition of inquiry?

Carozza: The Pope has written in his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," that it is not the role of the Church to bring about justice in the world, but rather to help purify reason by fostering an openness of mind and will, and to liberate reason from its blind spots and self-limitation so that in seeking justice we are able to act more fully in accord with the nature of every human being.

This means first that the task of the Church is to present with clarity and reasonableness the wealth of her teaching, and to propose to the world the insights she has gained from her experience of humanity.

Benedict XVI's message for the World Day of Peace is itself a lucid example of this: It does not pretend to provide solutions -- let alone detailed blueprints -- about how to achieve peace and justice, but educates us by reminding us of the central importance of such principles as the gift of life, freedom of religion, the natural equality of all persons, the destiny of the created world, and so on.

It is up to us to be the bearers of these truths in our work and to generate thereby a culture of "authentic integral humanism" that is capable of transcending cultural divides.

The most important locus for engaging the natural law tradition and fostering a radical openness of reason, therefore, is above all in ourselves. Only if we are attentive first to the education of our own hearts and the purification of our own reason, can we act in the world with the clarity and certainty necessary to engage every person and every culture in a genuine dialogue about what is good for human persons.

Without that affection for the truth of one's own life, even the natural law can easily be reduced from the ground of cross-cultural understanding to a meaningless formalism or an imposition.

Q: The Pope stated: "Peace requires the establishment of a clear boundary between what is at man's disposal and what is not." Can you explain in more detail what he means by this? How can that boundary be established?

Carozza: In several places in this text Benedict XVI shows an acute concern that has consistently marked his thought and teaching more generally, both as Cardinal Ratzinger and since becoming Pope: If nothing is beyond the bounds of human possession and instrumentalization, then there is ultimately no possibility of safeguarding human dignity and freedom.

The phrase quoted in the question raises this preoccupation in the particular context of a discussion of "gift" and "life." Recognizing that our life is given, and not created by us to use as we will, is the first indispensable step toward protecting all human rights with consistency.

The boundary between what is ours to use and what is not, and thus the boundary between inviolable human rights and merely conventional norms, begins with the protection of human life in all the contexts where it is most vulnerable to being reduced to the measure of its material usefulness and disposed of at the will of the more powerful.

The Holy Father mentions, in particular, victims of armed conflict, terrorism and other forms of violence, as well as the "silent deaths" caused by hunger, abortion, euthanasia and experimentation on human embryos.

It is worth highlighting, too, that Benedict XVI explains the fundamental importance of religious freedom along the same lines. By existing beyond the boundaries of what is ours to possess and use, the relationship between the human person and a transcendent "other" is a keystone holding up the edifice of all other human rights.

[Friday: Building an Integral Humanism]

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