Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has praised Pope John XXIII’s historic encyclical “Pacem in Terris” as “a great thing.”
“I would say what struck me about it was how modern it is and how in tune it is with modern thinking,” Wales told CNA in Rome April 27.
Wales is in Rome as a guest of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council of Social Sciences. From April 27 to May 1, the council’s 18th plenary session is exploring the legacy of the 1963 encyclical on global peace, which will mark its 50th anniversary next year. Wales, who is not Catholic, read the papal document for the first time last week.
“I thought I better do my homework,” he explained.
“You have the impression that the Catholic Church is quite old fashioned which it is, of course, in many ways,” said Wales, “but also that some of the thinking (in the encyclical) is quite up-to-date and quite modern, so I think that is a great thing.”
“Pacem in Terris,” whose name means “Peace on Earth,” was published on April 11, 1963. Pope John XXIII wrote it at a time when he knew he was terminally ill, and it is often described as his “last will and testament.” He died two months after its release.
The document’s overarching theme is the “tranquility of order” in society as a foundation for global peace. The Pope’s reflections were drawn from his re-reading of St. Augustine’s “City of God” in 1942, during the Second World War.
The work had great influence. “Pacem in Terris” is the only papal encyclical to be published in full by the New York Times.
University of Tulsa professor Russell Hittinger, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told CNA that the plenary session on the encyclical is “a very good occasion” to examine the state of the world “to see what John XXIII anticipated, what was left out of the picture and how principles have to be reapplied.”
Jimmy Wales will speak to participants on Monday April 30 on the topic “Wikipedia, Free Knowledge and Peace.” He said he is keen to use his address to explore and explain the online encyclopedia’s “concept of neutrality.”
Anyone can edit Wikipedia articles, but this openness has forced it to develop a way to mediate disputes about facts and interpretations.
“I think one of the most important avenues towards peace is for people to first think about what we do agree upon and how can we characterize our disagreement in a way that at least we agree what we disagree about,” he said.