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Message for 1981 World Day of Peace

Pope John Paul II

"To Serve Peace, Respect Freedom"

December 8, 1980

5. Freedom in its essence is within man, is connatural to the human person and. is the distinctive sign of man's nature. The freedom of the individual finds its basis in man's transcendent dignity: a dignity given to him by God, his Creator, and which directs him towards God. Because he has been created in God's image (cf. Gen 1:27), man is inseparable from freedom, that freedom which no external force or constraint can ever take away, and which constitutes his fundamental right, both as an individual and as a member of society. Man is free because he possesses the faculty of self-determination with regard to what is true and what is good. He is free because he possesses the faculty of choice, "as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint" (Gaudium et Spes, 17). To be free is to be able to choose and to want to choose; it is to live according to one's conscience.

6. ( ... ) The various authorities in society must make possible the exercise of true freedom in all its manifestations. They must endeavor to guarantee each individual's possibility of realizing his or her human potential to the full. They must allow each person a juridically protected domain of independence, so that every human being can live, individually and collectively, in accordance with the demands of his or her conscience. Moreover, this freedom is called for in the major international pacts and other documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Conventions on the same subject, as also in the vast majority of national Constitutions. This is only right, since the State, as the recipient of a mandate given by its citizens, must not only recognize the basic freedoms of individuals but also protect and foster them. The State will play this positive role by respecting the rule of law and seeking the common good in accordance with the demands of the moral law. Similarly, the freely constituted intermediate groups will make their own contribution to safeguarding and advancing these freedoms. This noble task concerns all living forces in society.

7. But freedom is not merely a right that one claims for oneself. It is also a duty that one undertakes with regard to others. If it is really to serve peace, the freedom of each human individual and each community must respect the freedoms and rights of other individuals and communities. This respect sets a limit to freedom, but it also gives it its logic and its dignity, since we are by nature social beings.

Some kinds of "freedom" do not really deserve the name, and we must take care to defend true freedom against various counterfeits. For example, the consumer society - that excess of goods not needed by man - can in a way constitute an abuse of freedom, when the more and more insatiable pursuit of goods is not subjected to the law of justice and of social love. Such consumerism involves a limitation of the freedom of others, and from the viewpoint of international solidarity it even affects whole societies which are unable to obtain the minimum of goods required for their essential needs. The existence of areas of absolute poverty in the world and the existence of hunger and malnutrition pose a serious question to the countries that have developed freely, without regard for those countries lacking even the minimum and perhaps at times at their expense. It could even be said that within the rich countries the uncontrolled pursuit of material goods and all kinds of services offers only an apparent increase of freedom to those who benefit from them, since it sets up as a basic human value the possession of things, instead of aiming at a certain material prosperity as the condition and means for the full development of the talents of the individual in collaboration with and in harmony with his fellowmen.

Likewise, a society built on a purely materialistic basis denies people their freedom when it submits individual freedoms to economic domination, when it represses man's spiritual creativity in the name of a false ideological harmony, when it denies people the exercise of their right of association, when in practice it reduces to nothing the power to participate in public affairs or acts in such a way that in this field individualism and civic and social non-participation become the general attitude.

Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. There are many examples of this mistaken idea of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion. ( ... )

9. ( ... ) The preparation of juridical documents has its place in improving relations between nations. In order that freedom may be respected, it is also necessary to contribute to the progressive codification of the applications that flow from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ( ... )

11. Let me in conclusion address more especially those who are united with me in belief in Christ. Man cannot be genuinely free or foster true freedom unless he recognizes and lives the transcendence of his being over the world and his relationship with God; for freedom is always the freedom of man made in the image of his Creator. The Christian finds in the Gospel support for this conviction and a deeper understanding of it. Christ, the Redeemer of man, makes us free. The Apostle John records the words: "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8:36). And the Apostle Paul adds: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2Cor 3:17). To be set free from injustice, fear, constraint and suffering would be useless, if we were to remain slaves in the depths of our hearts, slaves of sin. To be truly free, man must be set free from this slavery and transformed into a new creature. The radical freedom of man thus lies at the deepest level: the level of openness to God by conversion of heart, for it is in man's heart that the roots of every form of subjection, every violation of freedom, are found. Finally for the Christian, freedom does not come from man himself: it is manifested in obedience to the will of God and in fidelity to his love. (…)


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