A Letter from the Pope: “Caritas in Veritate”
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
One of the best known images of St. Peter is his statue in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The apostle, seated on a chair, has his hand raised, not just in blessing, but making a point. He’s the teacher of the church.
in St Peter's Basilica in Rome
I passed that statue in November, 2008, and someone snapped my picture as I was doing what pilgrims have been doing for centuries - touching the apostle’s foot to ask his blessing.
When I looked at the photo later, I was in for a surprise. In the picture’s upper left hand corner was the statue of St. Paul of the Cross, founder of my community, the Passionists, high in a prominent niche among the founders of religious orders.
St. Paul of the Cross strongly supported the popes in the 18th century and urged his followers to do the same. By slipping into that picture, was he reminding me, I wondered, to listen carefully to those who follow Peter today?
A major encyclical
On June 29, 2009, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI issued Caritas in Veritate, a major encyclical on social issues affecting our world today. The present pope was continuing the ministry of Peter through a letter sent to bishops and people throughout the world.
It took me a week to read through the encyclical after it was released and I can’t say I’ve grasped it all, even though I’ve returned to it a number of times since, but let me tell you a few things I’ve taken away from it.
As you read this extensive, densely packaged work, remember that the word “encyclical” is close to the word “encyclopedia.” The pope is speaking about a world that’s big and complex. It can’t be dealt within “sound bites,” as our news media tend to do, nor can its problems be solved through shouting matches or screaming television ads.
No, our world doesn’t respond to a quick fix. It’s not a world of one issue, either. Caritas in Veritate doesn’t oversimplify life and the problems our world faces, and neither should we.
The name Pope Benedict chose for his encyclical “Charity in truth” says something in itself. We tend to reduce love to a personal dimension – loving our neighbor next door, our family, our circle of friends. That’s part of the truth of love we may know best.
Note: numbers following quotations refer to sections of the Encyclical, which may be found online.