Speaking to 8,000 people in the Paul VI auditorium, the Holy Father drew applause with his announcement. He gently acknowledged the intense media speculation about the document-- which has reportedly been delayed by revisions and difficulties with translations-- by saying that the encyclical would "finally" appear in one week.
Pope Benedict said that his encyclical is an effort to explain the true nature of love, by discussing the "different dimensions" of human love. In today's world, he observed, love is often discussed in language that " often appears as something far removed from Church teaching." But even romantic love points toward a higher form of charity, he said: "Eros becomes agape if one seeks the good of others, it becomes caritas if it opens to one's own family and to the entire human family."
The encyclical goes on to say that "the very personal act of love must be expressed within the Church also as an organizational act," the Pope told his audience. He added: "If it is true that the Church is an expression of God, it must be true that love becomes an ecclesial act." Thus the encyclical takes a detailed look at the charitable activities of the Catholic Church.
The Pope noted that the publication date, January 25, will coincide with the conclusion of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On that day, which is also the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the Pontiff will go to the basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls for an ecumenical prayer service closing the annual event. "I feel it is a sign of Providence" that the encyclical will be published on that day, he said.
Pope Benedict made the announcement about his encyclical extemporaneously, before resuming his usual practice for a Wednesday audience, delivering an address about the pursuit of Christian unity. (See the separate CWN headline story.) The Pontiff has frequently improvised during his public appearances, adding offhand comments to his prepared texts. But this was the first occasion when an ad lib remark had contained an important announcement.
In fact Pope Benedict has generally shown himself to be averse to surprise announcements. The only occasion to date when the Pope made a completely unexpected statement come on May 13, 2005, when he told a meeting of the Roman clergy that he had approved the opening of the process for beatification of Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican press office has indicated that a briefing on the papal encyclical will be held at midday on January 25. Three leading Vatican officials will present the text to reporters: Archbishop William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.
Archbishop Levada, whose dicastery reviewed the theological reasoning of the document and apparently persuaded the Pontiff to make several changes in his conclusions, will be making his first appearance before the Italian press since his appointment last May to succeed Cardinal Ratzinger as head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Martino will presumably speak about the social and political implications of the encyclical. The Pontifical Council Cor Unum is the charitable arm of the Holy See, and Archbishop Cordes was reportedly asked to provide the Pope with a detailed account of Church charitable efforts during the drafting of the encyclical. Cor Unum is hosting a seminar on Catholic charitiable efforts on January 23 and 24, just before the release of the papal document. The text of the encyclical, which runs at a length of 50 substantial paragraphs, will be available in Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and the official Latin version.
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