Monday, January 30, 2006


VATICAN CITY, JAN 25, 2006 (VIS) - At midday today in the Holy See Press Office, the presentation took place of Benedict XVI's first Encyclical "Deus caritas est." Participating in the press conference were Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum."

In his remarks, Cardinal Martino made reference to that part of the Encyclical in which the Pope considers the relationship between justice and charity, and indicates certain points concerning the field of jurisdiction of the Church and her social doctrine, and the jurisdiction of the State, in achieving a just social order.

After highlighting how the building of social and State order is not immediately incumbent upon the Church but rather upon the political sphere, the Pope points out that "the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically."

The Holy Father, Cardinal Martino went on, "affirms that, in building a just social order, the duty of the Church with her social doctrine is that of reawakening spiritual and moral forces." In this context, he continued, "lay people, as citizens of the State, are called to participate directly in public life." Their mission "is to mould social life appropriately, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens, according to their respective areas of jurisdiction, each under their own responsibility."

"The presence of lay people in the social field," the cardinal continued, "is here conceived in terms of service, a sign and expression of charity which is made manifest in family, cultural, working, economic and political life."

For his part, Archbishop Levada affirmed that the Encyclical, is "a powerful text on the 'nucleus of Christian faith,' understood as the Christian image of God and the image of man that derives from it. A powerful text that seeks to counter the erroneous use of the name of God, and the ambiguity concerning the word 'love' that is so evident in the world today."

"In order to explain the novelty of Christian love, the Holy Father seeks first to illustrate the difference and unity between two concepts inherent to the phenomenon of love from the times of the ancient Greeks: 'eros' and 'agape'." These two concepts "do not oppose one another, but come harmoniously together to offer a realistic concept of human love, a love that involves the entirety - body and soul - of the human being. 'Agape' prevents 'eros' from abandoning itself to instinct, while 'eros' offers 'agape' the fundamental and vital relationships of human existence."

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith then went on to point out how "in the indissoluble marriage between man and woman this human love takes a form that is rooted in creation itself."

"Love for others, rooted in the love of God, is the duty, not only of each individual faithful, but also - and here we come to the second part of the Encyclical - of the entire community of believers, in other words the Church. From the historical development of the ecclesial aspect of love, which dates back to the very origins of the Church, we may draw two conclusions: firstly that the service of charity is part of the essence of the Church, secondly that no one must lack what they need, either within or outside the Church."

In his Encyclical the Pope, Archbishop Levada added, "offers some illuminating comments on certain aspects of the Church's service of charity - 'diakonia' - in modern times. He responds to the objection according to which charity towards the poor is an obstacle to the fair distribution of the wealth of the earth to all mankind."

At the same time the Pope "praises new forms of fruitful collaboration between State and Church bodies, making reference to the phenomenon of voluntary work."

In summing up the Encyclical, Archbishop Levada pointed out how it "offers us a vision of love for others, and of the ecclesial duty to practice charity, as being a way to implement the commandment of love, one that finds its roots in the essence of God Himself, Who is Love." The document, he concluded, "invites the Church to a renewed commitment to the service of charity ('diakonia') as an essential part of her existence and her mission."

The last to speak was Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, who highlighted how "today's text is the first ever Encyclical on the subject of charity." Perhaps, he suggested, the presentation had also been entrusted to him as president of "Cor Unum" because his dicastery "puts into effect the Pope's personal initiatives as a sign of his compassion in the face of certain situations of misery."

"The Church's charity is made up of concrete initiatives," said the archbishop. "It includes political initiatives, such as those for the elimination of debt of the poorest countries. We wish to promote an awareness of justice in society." However, he went on, "Pope Benedict XVI [also] wished to illuminate charitable commitment with a theological foundation. ... He is convinced that faith has consequences on the individual who acts, and therefore on the manner and intensity of his acts of charity."

"The social doctrine of the Church and the theology of charity are, without doubt, inter-linked," the prelate said, "but they are not exactly the same. Indeed, the former expresses ethical principles associated with the search for the common good and moves, therefore, more at a political and community level. On the other hand, caring - both individually and together - for the suffering of others does not call for a systematic doctrine. Rather, it arises from the word of faith."

"In our society there exists, fortunately, a widespread feeling of philanthropy, ... but this can give the faithful the idea that charity is not an essential part of the ecclesial mission. Without a solid theological foundation, the great ecclesial agencies could become ... disassociated from the Church, [and] ... prefer to identify themselves as non-governmental organizations. In such cases, their 'philosophy' and their projects would be indistinguishable from the Red Cross and the U.N. agencies. This, however, contrasts with the two-thousand-year history of the Church, and does not take into account the intimate rapport between ecclesial action on behalf of man and credibility in the announcement of the Gospel."

"We must go further," Archbishop Cordes concluded, "the present sensibility of so many people, especially the young, also contains a 'kairos apostolico.' This opens notable pastoral prospects. There are innumerable volunteers, and many of them discover the love of God in the giving of themselves to others with disinterested love."


Taken from the Vatican Information Service

To read the full text of the Encyclical, click here

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