Following the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Caroline Stanton from our Theology team reflects on the significance of his teachings on justice and peace.
Much has already been written about Pope Benedict’s legacy including his eloquent and thoughtful theological writings and his ground-breaking decision to become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. His contribution to the Church’s social justice tradition, however, has perhaps been less celebrated, yet it is it is an important one.
Rooted in love
In Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), his compelling social justice encyclical, Pope Benedict made clear that it is love that leads us to stand on the side of the poor and live out Catholic social teaching, writing:
“Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”Caritas in Veritate, 1, 2009
The encyclical highlights that we must not see love or “charity” as a sentimental alternative to working for more just economic systems, directed to the pursuit of the common good. Love animates our efforts towards justice. And yet, acts of love, person-to-person, will always remain necessary no matter what great things we achieve through political policies, technological inventions or more just economies.
Solidarity in action
Many of us will recall Pope Benedict’s 2010 apostolic visit to the United Kingdom. During the trip, in a powerful speech in Westminster Hall, he challenged the assembled politicians and business leaders to a deep and active solidarity saying,
“But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.”
Reflecting on the language used around the bail out of banks and large firms, deemed “too big to fail” Pope Benedict flips the concept to highlight the importance of integral human development for all people. He asserts:
“Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed ‘too big to fail’. Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly ‘too big to fail’.”
The “Green Pope”
The ecological crisis was also put on the agenda in the papacy of Pope Benedict, who spoke more about the care of creation that many people realise.
In his 2010 World Day of Peace message, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation,” he drew attention to the interconnected relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation, asking;
“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”
Benedict XVI also led by example, having solar panels installed on the Vatican’s Nervi Hall and taking steps to try to offset the Vatican’s carbon emissions, which led some to call him the “Green Pope.”
Building a better world
In this time of Christmastide, I have been struck by Pope Benedict’s words in his 2005 Christmas message,
“Men and women of today… let the Child of Bethlehem take you by the hand! Do not fear; put your trust in him! The life-giving power of his light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic relationships.”Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas Message, Dec. 25, 2005
As we pray for Pope Benedict today, let’s also pray that we will be inspired by his teaching and example. Placing our trust in life-giving power of Christ’s light, may we play our part in building a better world where all people, communities and the earth may flourish.
Holy Mary,Prayer of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely to God’s call
and thus became a wellspring of the goodness
Show us Jesus.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become capable of true love
and be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.
From Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Dec. 2005
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.