LONDON -- Pope Francis issued the first encyclical of his papacy Friday, a reflection on faith meant to illuminate the mind of God but also revealing someone else’s: Benedict XVI's.
The document -- the highest form of papal teaching -- was signed only by Francis, but he acknowledged that it was based on an initial draft written by his retired predecessor, supplemented with “a few contributions of my own.” The encyclical calls on Roman Catholics not just to believe in Christ but to manifest God’s “supernatural” gift of faith in church and society.
Its dual authorship highlights the anomaly created by Benedict’s decision at the end of February to become the first pontiff in 700 years to step down voluntarily. There are now two popes at the Vatican, though Benedict is formally a pope “emeritus” living a life of seclusion and meditation in a garden villa.
Though some commentators have wondered if the arrangement will lead to divided loyalties among clergy and laity, no serious doubts over Francis’ authority have arisen yet, and he himself has appeared unfazed by the situation since his election in March to succeed Benedict.
On Friday, the two men were seen publicly together for the first time since Benedict’s return to the Vatican in May after a brief retreat. The former and present popes embraced at a ceremony to inaugurate a new monument in the Vatican gardens.
Francis also honored two other predecessors Friday by approving their canonization. John Paul II, who died in 2005, and John XXIII, who died in 1963, are now set to become new Catholic saints. Both canonizations are unusual: John Paul for how speedily it has happened, and John for the waiver of the requirement that a second miracle be attributed to his posthumous intervention.
John Paul II, the outspoken Pole who opposed Soviet communism, was the first non-Italian to become pope in more than 400 years. John XXIII called the historic Second Vatican Council, which recommended controversial ecclesiastical reforms.
The two former pontiffs could be formally elevated to sainthood by the end of the year.
The new encyclical issued Friday, titled “Light of Faith,” bears the marks of Francis and Benedict.
[Updated, 8:25 a.m. PDT July 5: The Vatican was eager to tamp down any speculation over shared authority or competing messages.
“The pope is Francis,” Archbishop Gerhard Mueller told reporters. “It’s not signed by two popes because we only have one pope.”]
It was begun by Benedict, who had planned a trilogy of encyclicals on the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love but announced his resignation before the final one was completed. Much of the new document is densely considered and somewhat academic, very obviously the work of Benedict, a theologian and thinker of deep erudition.
Later chapters that stress the importance of helping those who are suffering and that cite Francis of Assisi are clearly the contributions of the present pope, who has made pastoral care of the poor and disenfranchised a major focus of his papacy.
[Updated, 8:25 a.m. PDT July 5: The encyclical also reaffirms Catholic Church teaching that marriage is solely a “stable union of man and woman.”]
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