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ENCYCLICAL (UPDATED) Jan-18-2006 (690 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope says first encyclical explores dimensions of love, charity

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI offered a sneak preview of his first encyclical, saying the text would explore the different dimensions of love and charity.

In impromptu remarks at his general audience at the Vatican Jan. 18, the pope announced that the text, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), would be released Jan. 25.

"In this encyclical I want to explain the concept of love in its various dimensions. In today's terminology, the meaning of love often is far from that which we know as Christians," he said.

The text, about 50 pages in all, has been described by sources as a spiritual reflection on Christian love and erotic love, the church's work of charity and its mission to announce Christ.

The pope said his goal was to demonstrate that "love is one movement with different dimensions."

"Eros, this gift of love between a man and a woman, comes from the same source of the goodness of the Creator as does the possibility of a love which renounces the self in favor of the other," he said.

Self-sacrificial love can transform erotic love so that "one no longer seeks his own joy and pleasure, but seeks first of all the good of the other person," he said.

He said the transformation of eros into charity was a "journey of purification" that impacts one's immediate family and the larger families of society, church and world.

The pope also alluded to the second part of the encyclical, which examines the church's charitable work in relation to love. He said he makes the point that the personal act of love that comes to humanity from God should be reflected in the church's own actions at an organizational level.

"The church as church, as a community in its institutions, must love," he said.

He said the church's charity, however, is "not just an organization like other philanthropic organizations" but expresses "the more profound act of the personal love God has created in our hearts."

The pope said he considered it providential that the encyclical, which was delayed for weeks, would finally come out on the day he will close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

While not specifically focused on ecumenism, he said, the encyclical's foundation is ecumenical because "God's love and our love is the condition for unity among Christians and for peace in the world."

Vatican sources said the encyclical was delayed by a number of revisions in the text and that translation of the revisions was completed Jan. 17.

One source said an earlier version of the encyclical was circulated to Vatican departments and a small number of theologians last fall, resulting in a significant number of suggested changes. Subsequent editing of the text included wording modifications, new explanatory sections and revision of the conclusion, he said.

The encyclical takes its theme and title from a passage in the First Letter of John, "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him." The pope says these words clearly express the centrality of the Christian faith, the Christian image of God, and the vision of man and his path.

According to a brief excerpt published by the Italian news agency ANSA, the encyclical warns that in contemporary society the division between erotic love and the self-sacrificing spiritual love proposed by Christianity is resulting in sexual degradation.

The complete text of the encyclical will be released to journalists at a press conference Jan. 25, the Vatican said. Presenting the document will be U.S. Archbishop William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Italian Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and German Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

On Jan. 23, Cor Unum, the Vatican agency that coordinates charitable activities, was hosting a major Vatican conference that was expected to examine Catholic charitable operations.

Archbishop Cordes was said by sources to have had a key role in preparation of the encyclical.


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