The Papacy and the Challenge of the Modern World
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 14 Sep 1984, p. 44-60
Casaroli, His Eminence Agostino Cardinal, Speaker
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A discussion of some of the problems and challenges facing the modern world, ones that "affect more closely the well-being, the progress, and the very existence of humanity; the ones which at the same time more directly call into play the Holy See's responsibilities and its possibilities of action. They include a discussion of peace and war; the development of peoples and the so-called North-South dialogue; the increase of drug addiction; man's move towards science and away from religion. The Holy See's role as Mother and Teacher.
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14 Sep 1984
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To commemorate the visit to Canada by His Holiness the Pope, the Empire Club of Canada hosted this special dinner for His Eminence, Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Vatican Secretary of State, on September 14, 1984. Since its founding in 1903 the club has hosted many world leaders, both secular and religious, so it was natural that we should mark this historic occasion with a special dinner.
The Vatican Secretary of State holds a position equivalent to that of Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Cardinal Casaroli is unique in that he is the most senior official of the Holy See to ever address such a private gathering in Canada. We are honoured to record his message in this Empire Club Yearbook.
C.R. Charlton

Your Eminence, Chief Justice, Mr. Minister, Reverend Sir, ladies and gentlemen: Nearly 150 years ago, projecting his great mind into the distant future, Thomas Macaulay wrote of the Catholic Church:

"She may still exist, in undiminished vigor, when some traveler ... shall, in the midst of a vast solitude take his stand on a broken arch of the London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."

Of course, Sir Arthur and I may not agree with every word, but we would agree that Macaulay caught the feeling o£ permanence and of deep wisdom which millions of people have about the Church of Rome. The parish of this Church, if I may use the word parish, is world-wide, and still displaying the vigour Macaulay spoke about.

Cardinal Casaroli, who is addressing us today, is among those who stand at the peak of this powerful force. For five years now, after a continuously widening apprenticeship, he has served the Vatican as Secretary of State. His function is roughly comparable to those of a Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Head of State being His Holiness the Pope.

Cardinal Casaroli was born in San Castel, Italy, a few days after the outbreak of World War I - a fact which may or may not, have contributed to the energy or to use Macaulay's word - vigour he has put behind the Church's drive for peace. In this connection, he has made many personal visits and attended many conferences on world problems in, it seems, virtually every capital of Europe, Africa and America.

In 1971, he made the Vatican's first politico-diplomatic visit to Moscow, and there signed the nuclear arms non-proliferation treaty, on behalf of the Holy See. In his arduous work, he has, of course, served more than his Church. He has served us all.

The position of Secretary of State for the Vatican is one of the most influential and fascinating positions in the world. Only a sensitive and skilled diplomat could maintain the delicate balance between pragmatic governing and inspired religious leadership that is required from the Secretary of State. All sources who know him agree that Cardinal Casaroli has this unique combination of qualities.

It is with great pleasure that I now call oa His Eminence Agostino Cardinal Casaroli.

Cardinal Casaroli

It hardly needs to be said that the title that I have given to this conversation, as it stands, goes beyond my real intentions, and beyond the real possibilities of giving it fully adequate treatment. Indeed, so many and so great are "the challenges of the modern world" that even to list them all would require more time than I can decently ask you to give me this evening.

Among the many "challenges of the modern world" I have to select some of the more important ones; in a sense, the ones that affect more closely the well-being, the progress, and the very existence of humanity; the ones which at the same time more directly call into play the Holy See's responsibilities and its possibilities of action.

1. The Holy See is concerned about these questions not only as a religious entity but also as a full participant in the international community, a status which is recognized by all, with few exceptions. As such, the Holy See takes part in the institutions and activities of the world community on an equal level with other sovereign members: along lines, naturally, in consonance with its special character as a "Power" - if one wishes to use that term - of a spiritual and moral nature. To illustrate this point it is enough to recall that the Holy See has been a full member of the European Conference on Security and Cooperation, and that it participates, at least as an observer, in the various Assemblies of the United Nations and its agencies.

One may say that in recent decades the activity of the Papacy in the various sectors of international life, and the reception this activity has been given even by countries and groups that in other periods of history were indifferent or hostile, has increased notably. This is also due, undoubtedly, to the widespread appreciation with which the Church and its institutions are viewed. For the Holy See, this is less an honour than it is a responsibility.

In relation to the matters in question here, the Holy See, in some ways, holds a privileged position. Not having any political, territorial or military interests of its own to defend, it is in a position to see with greater objectivity the reality and implications of the problems that arise on the international scene. At the same time, however, it has to be careful of the temptation to judge and evaluate concrete situations, which are sometimes very complex, from a point of view that is too theoretical or which oversimplifies things.

2. At the cost of appearing unoriginal I cannot avoid mentioning, in the first place, among the challenges facing the modern world, the problem of peace, and the related questions of disarmament and the easing of international tensions.

War or peace. With the multiplication of the means of destruction that scientific and technological "progress" has placed in our hands, especially after the dawning of the nuclear age, this alternative represents today a true question of life or death for humanity. It obliges the human race to adopt a new way of thinking in the military and political fields, as well as in the application of moral principles. The more or less equal balance of atomic power held by blocs that are or will be in conflict with each other gives a tragic and, at the same time, almost paradoxical dimension to the whole question.

... I cannot avoid mentioning ... the problem of peace ...

In the present state of affairs a nuclear war cannot be won. This is the expressed opinion of some of the highest authorities of our time. It is also the thinking of many who would not dare to say so publicly. The logical conclusion is that such a war must not be fought. This in itself is already something positive. There is, however, a negative aspect to this logical conclusion: for "nuclear impunity" can serve as a temptation to attempt other adventures, of war or agression.

Nuclear weapons, at any rate, are stockpiled, developed and perfected in an effort to maintain a precarious balance, which itself almost inevitably leads to increasingly advanced forms of counterbalance. Not with the intention of using these awful weapons - it is said - but to dissuade others from doing so. In spite of the guarantees that such a "deterrent" is purported to offer, the very existence and availability of such terrible instruments of death and destruction constitutes a constant threat of catastrophe, about which scientists and the mass-media warn us again and again in the hope of inducing everyone, especially leaders, to reflect.

The Holy See has given particular attention to the question of war and peace, of weapons and their use; especially since the time of the first World War. It approaches this question from the viewpoint of the moral principles involved. In this respect, suffice it to say that while acknowledging the effectiveness and legitimacy of dissuasion - within just limits - as a means to prevent the evil of war, the Popes have considered it even more important to highlight and insist upon the need to promote conditions capable of safeguarding the supreme good of peace. In order to be true and stable, peace can never be detached from justice and respect for the rights of all peoples.

... peace can never be detached from justice ...

Together with this doctrinal teaching, the Holy See strives to act in the service of peace in the measure of its possibilities. Messages addressed to Heads of State, public appeals, calls to prayer, recourse to the "charity of knowledge that builds peace" (in a beautiful expression of Pope John Paul 11 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences), mobilization of public conscience and public opinion: these are all means which it uses in the effort to avert the danger of war, to promote an end to conflicts and appeal for dialogue and peace negotiations. Lebanon, the Middle East, Iran-Iraq are among the most recent objects of the Holy See's concern thus expressed.

This public activity represents only the tip of the iceberg - to use another phrase that does not smack of originality. To a great extent the dimensions of the iceberg are hidden beneath the discretion that has always characterized diplomacy, especially as it is carried out by the Holy See. This diplomatic activity is carried out at various levels, from contacts with the highest leaders in public life to the more frequent contacts with the diplomatic representatives of the various countries.

The extensive range of contacts between the Pope and his closest collaborators and Heads of State or of governments, or with Ministers for External Affairs and other high government officials and representatives of international organizations, is not completely lost to the general public. Ordinarily, however, the matters dealt with in these meetings are not made public, and still less their possible results which, indeed, are seldom immediate and sensational, but which are intended to promote and encourage or prepare proximate and future decisions. The diplomatic relations of the Holy See with over one hundred countries, from some of the smallest to some of the largest, and with international organizations, offers it the possibility of a permanent and discreet dialogue, which rarely overlooks the concerns and responsibilities of the Holy See and of other states in the area of peace and war, whether on a regional or a planetary scale.

In this patient and untiring interplay of contacts and dialogue the Holy See acts in the light of a principle which Pope John Paul 11 stated recently in the following terms (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace, 1984): "war is in itself irrational and ... the ethical principle of the peaceful settlement of conflicts is the only way worthy of man". Previously, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War, Pius XII had warned: "Nothing is lost through peace, all can be lost through war."

With these strongly held convictions the Holy See works decisively to promote peace and encourage negotiations around the world, especially against the background of the dangers of confrontation between the socalled super-powers and their respective blocs. The activity of the Holy See aims at combining, in the best way possible, goodwill, clearsightedness, and that healthy realism which is the best servant of the highest ideals. The Holy See is, indeed, well aware that a true and lasting peace cannot be built on sentiment alone. It requires a strong will enlightened by reason. It presupposes, therefore, a clear ethical conscience, joined to an equally clear knowledge of the real situations in which one is called to move.

...People ordinarily respond to the hope of gain or the fear of loss ...

The true, hard, but unavoidable challenge of our time is to find the way to harmonize the renunciation of military force with the safefuarding of the freedom and dignity of peoples, avoiding not only actual war, but also what has rightly been termed "a war that is called peace".

How effective is the Holy See in this endeavour?

People ordinarily respond to the hope of gain or the fear of loss. This is a fact of experience for which it is not necessary to appeal to Machiavelli. In relation to material realities the Holy See has little or nothing to offer to satisfy these hopes or fears. But it may be said that the Holy See's voice - politically weak and militarily altogether without force - is almost universally listened to with respect when it calls for international relations to be considered not from the point of view of strength alone, but with the measure, above all, of reason and according to the rule of law.

It is to be hoped that the more unlikely it becomes to obtain a military victory because of the balance of power on each side, the more this voice will be heard, for the good of the human race.

3. No less important or less tragic is another challenge facing the modern world: the development of peoples and the so-called North-South dialogue.

The more developed part of the world views with a certain apprehension the menacing growth - in number and in need - of those who have been referred to as the "peoples of hunger". Fortunately it is not always a question of hunger in the real sense of the word, although that too, sad to say, still causes millions of victims in various places. But the existence of widely diffused misery, of sickness, of illiteracy and cultural underdevelopment, causes a great part of mankind to live a life unworthy of the human person. All of this produces attitudes of vindication and hostility which, in turn, constitute a serious threat to international harmony and peace.

In his encyclical, dedicated precisely to the theme of "the development of peoples" (1967), Pope Paul VI enunciated a now well-known principle: development is the new name of peace. In proclaiming the need for progress, and indicating the paths leading to it, the Pope's purpose was to launch an appeal to the conscience of the world, calling for collaboration in favour of the less favoured and developed peoples.

On the level of practical achievements, it would be impossible and unjust to forget the traditional activity of the Holy See and of the Catholic Church on behalf of developing nations. I mention, as more recent concrete examples, the establishment of the "Populorum Progressio" Foundation for Latin America (1967) and the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel which aims at being a contribution and a model of the struggle of civilization against the ravages of drought in vast areas of Africa.

While the Popes continue to fulfill their prophetic role, denouncing wrongs and exhorting to good, they are not unaware of the difficulties of the task to which they call the international community. As in the question of peace, so in the North-South dialogue, goodwill and generosity are not enough. Wisdom and firm farseeing decisions are required. Emotive and propagandistic oversimplifications would be no guide. And the temptation to condition politically or ideologically the weaker party in the dialogue must be avoided.

The transfer of resources from North to South is not a merely mechanical operation. In fact, it could be said that money without know-how can be as useless as know-how without money. Without adequate technical and managerial training the developing countries will be incapable of transforming the arrival of even massive funding into economically viable projects that will truly serve to lead them gradually out of their situation of underdevelopment.

No less than for the question of peace, the challenge of development and of exchange between North and South engages the conscience, the generosity, the courage and the far-sighted wisdom both of the richer nations and of those in need of being helped in their rightful access to a life that is truly more worthy of human beings.

International collaboration in this field cannot be limited to the mere distribution of resources, equitable as this may be. Developing nations must be effectively assisted in assimilating advanced technology and in acquiring the managerial skills to which other peoples have arrived after centuries of progress. This process must always safeguard - and this is one of the most important aspects of the challenge - the dignity, the real independence, the ethnical and spiritual identity of the peoples being assisted. All have responsibilities in this field, and all share a common interest and perceive mutual advantages.

... Among the other challenges is ... the growing problem of drug addiction ...

4. Among the other challenges that appear to characterize the modern world there is one - among others - which by its very nature cannot leave any of us unaffected, least of all the Holy See. I am referring to the growing problem of drug addiction, not solely as it affects individuals, but as a threat to the masses, a problem of epidemic proportions. Moreover, if certain recently repeated affirmations and insinuations were to be accepted, we would see the emergence of a new weapon in the struggle against nations and institutions, added to or substituting for other classical and modern means of warfare. In this case we would not be dealing with weapons that can be judged in terms of deterrence, but with a means of actual attack and of destruction, aimed especially at youth.

If I refrain from dwelling at length on this problem it is not because I do not consider it to be most serious; as serious, I would say, as the threat of nuclear destruction. Rather it is because I feel that the Holy See, while it actively promotes and supports programs of prevention and cure in this field, has not as yet assumed a position or taken any specific official action regarding the hypothesis of the programmed use of drugs as a means of international struggle. Nevertheless, in view of the enormity of the threat to society which this phenomenon represents in its various present or possible expressions, it is a matter which deserves serious and committed consideration and study.

At this point however I would like rather to say something about another challenge which I consider of special importance for the present and future of the human family as a whole. I would call it the Promethean challenge, to which the modern world is dangerously exposed due to the very fact of its own wonderful and inebriating conquests. Man's increasing knowledge of the reality and of the forces that surround him, and the control of these forces that, step by step, he has achieved, give him a sense of power and self-sufficiency that tends to make him believe that he is indeed lord of the world and of himself, and brings him to reject any outside influence, including that of God.

Prometheus who succeeds in stealing from Zeus a spark of fire for man to illumine his nights and protect himself from the cold and from the attacks of wild animals, fire to shape iron for his own use! This would appear to be the prototype of modern man. After centuries of study and experimentation, after centuries of dangerous adventures, of tragic defeats and exalting victories, he has finally succeeded in penetrating the hidden secrets of matter, and in possessing its mysterious energies. He has been freed from the ancient slavery that bound him to the earth and he has lifted himself higher and higher in the conquest of the cosmos. He unravels the mysteries of organic life itself, and with audacious actions he succeeds in directing - or disturbing - its natural course, going so far as to perpetrate desecrating experiments of "genetic engineering" on the human body.

In this way man may come to believe that he has finally taken his destiny into his own hands. This phenomenon is particularly evident in relation to life and population questions. Apart from those who deny the existence of God and, consequently, of a higher moral order, we see that modern man is easily led to believe that he himself - with his intelligence and powers to intervene - must take in hand these problems and determine their solution. He believes that he should do this by "rational" planning, and by all the means that science and technology have put at his disposal, while he ignores the existence of any positive or natural divine law governing his conduct in this field.

Faced with such an attitude, the Popes of recent times have clearly enunciated a doctrine which recognizes the reality of the problems but indicates, for their solution, certain objective limits and directions. This approach is in contrast with theories and practices that are widely supported, proposed and even imposed officially, in high places with the force of considerable means.

It is not my intention to dwell on the question in itself. I only wish to underline that this challenge, which I have called Promethean, and which is the source of so much of present-day conduct that contradicts traditional morals, is considered by the Holy See of no less importance than the challenges of peace and development. The Holy See feels this way not only because its teaching authority and the traditional doctrine of the Church is at stake, but also because it is convinced that this rejection is pregnant with serious consequences for the men and women of today, and even more so for those of tomorrow; consequences which modern man, in spite of his training in scientific reasoning and calculated forecasting, still appears incapable of imagining. Although, perhaps, he is beginning to have some presentiment of it all.

... be considered a friend ...

In its approach, which may seem hard and inflexible, and which some think of as aprioristic, the Holy See is moved by its sense of duty as "Mater et Magistra", Mother and Teacher. But beyond this, it is moved by a profound love for humanity. A duty and a love that are not opposed to each other, but rather are joined in a harmonious synthesis which history will prove to be correct. Of this the Holy See is certain.

This challenge, like the previous ones, is not directed to the Holy See alone, but to man himself. In confronting this challenge, the Holy See is convinced that it offers an indispensable and precious service to the human family; no less valuable than the struggle against the dangers of war and against the scourge of hunger, sickness and underdevelopment. It asks to be understood, even by those who do not share its doctrinal and practical convictions. It asks to be considered a friend and a loyal travelling companion of man on his earthly journey and in the achievement of his historical destiny.


The appreciation of the audience was expressed by John WE Griffin, a Past President of the Club.

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The Papacy and the Challenge of the Modern World

A discussion of some of the problems and challenges facing the modern world, ones that "affect more closely the well-being, the progress, and the very existence of humanity; the ones which at the same time more directly call into play the Holy See's responsibilities and its possibilities of action. They include a discussion of peace and war; the development of peoples and the so-called North-South dialogue; the increase of drug addiction; man's move towards science and away from religion. The Holy See's role as Mother and Teacher.