Pope Gives Keys to Leo XIII's Lasting Contributions

Visits Birthplace of 19th-Century Pontiff

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CARPINETO ROMANO, Italy, SEPT. 5, 2010 (Zenit.org).- By understanding social questions as something to be dealt with positively and effectively through dialogue and mediation, Pope Leo XIII led a Church capable of dealing with the great issues of contemporary society.

This suggestion was made today by Benedict XVI when he made a brief visit to Carpineto Romano, the birthplace of his predecessor. 

The Holy Father’s visit marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci (1810-1903), who was elected to the See of Peter in 1878.

Benedict XVI took a helicopter to the small town, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Rome, and celebrated a Mass there, returning to Castel Gandolfo just in time for the midday Angelus.

Though Leo XIII is best known for his contribution to the Church’s social doctrine with his 1891 encyclical «Rerum Novarum,» the Pope stressed that he was above all «a man of great faith and profound devotion.»

This, the Holy Father observed, «always remains the basis of everything, for every Christian, including the Pope.»

Leo XIII was able to transmit to the People of God a message that joined «faith and reason, truth and concrete reality,» the Pontiff said. And this, despite living «in one of the most difficult historical periods of the Church.»

Peaceful force

Benedict considered Leo XIII’s contribution to social doctrine by looking at the second reading from today’s liturgy, in which St. Paul sends Onesimus the run-away slave back to his former owner Philemon, not as a slave, but baptized, and thus a brother in Christ.

The Pope observed: «From this particular experience of St. Paul with Onesimus there can develop a broad reflection on the movement of human promotion brought by Christianity to the path of civilization, and also on the method and style of this contribution, conformed to the evangelical images of the seed and the leaven: Christians, acting as individual citizens or groups within the reality of history, constitute a beneficent and peaceful force for profound change, actualizing the development of the potentialities within reality itself. 

«This is the form of presence and action in the world proposed by the Church’s social doctrine, which always points to the maturation of consciences as the valid and lasting condition for transformations.»

The Bishop of Rome considered the context in which Leo XIII found himself: that of a Europe «feeling the effects of the great Napoleonic storm, which followed the French Revolution,» in which the Church and elements of Christian culture «were radically called into question.»

The Pontiff said the Church’s magisterium was moved «to elaborate a comprehensive and prospective reading of the new society and its common good.»

And Leo XIII «felt called to bring this reading to completion.» 

«There were in fact dozens and dozens of saints and blessed since the end of the 1700s to the beginning of the 1900s who sought out and took — with the imagination of charity — many roads to actualize the evangelical message within the new social realities,» he continued. «Without a doubt these initiatives, with the sacrifices and reflections of these men and women, prepared the soil of ‘Rerum Novarum’ and of the other social documents of Pope Pecci. 

«Already at the time that he was apostolic nuncio in Belgium, he had understood that the social question could be dealt with positively and effectively with dialogue and mediation. In an age of bitter anti-clericalism and of volatile demonstrations against the Pope, Leo XIII knew how to guide and support Catholics along the path of constructive participation, rich in contents, firm about principles and capable of openness.»


Benedict XVI noted that immediately following the 1891 encyclical, «there was a real explosion of initiatives in Italy and other countries: associations, rural and artisan banks, newspapers … a vast ‘movement.'» 

«Thus,» he said, «a very old but wise and farseeing Pope was able to introduce into the 20th century a rejuvenated Church, with the right attitude to face the new challenges.

«He was a Pope still politically and physically a ‘prisoner’ in the Vatican, but in reality, with his magisterium, he represented a Church capable of dealing with the great contemporary questions without complexes.»

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-30248?l=english

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