VATICAN CITY — In a letter to his former secretary of state, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has underscored the need for the Church to extend its pastoral care to nonbelievers and to share “the questions of the times” in its continuing efforts to announce the Gospel to the world.
Benedict XVI’s new reflections came in an April 21 letter to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who served as his secretary of state from 2006 to 2013. A summary of the letter was published in the May 10 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
The letter is the second original work of Benedict XVI’s made public since his resignation in February 2013. Previously, he had written a message to the Pontifical Urban University on the occasion of the dedication of the university’s main hall to him.
Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s personal secretary and prefect of the pontifical household, read that message on Oct. 21, 2014.
Benedict XVI is now living in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, located within the Vatican City walls. He has not made a public speech since his resignation took effect.
In this new letter, the pope emeritus wrote, “The service of a shepherd cannot be limited only to the Church,” even though, “in the first place, we are entrusted with the care of the faithful and of those who are directly seeking faith.”
The Church, he maintained, “is part of the world, and, therefore, it can properly play its service only if it takes care of the world in its entirety.”
According to Benedict XVI, the “word of God concerns the totality of reality, and this actuality places on the Church a general responsibility.” This is the reason why the Church “must be involved in the efforts that humanity and society put into action” for a path toward justice and why the Church must “find a way of reasoning” that would also include nonbelievers.
The full letter was published in the German original and in an Italian-language translation as an introduction to Cardinal Bertone’s new book, La Fede e il Bene Commune: Offerta Cristiana Alla Società Contemporanea (Faith and the Common Good: The Christian Proposal to Contemporary Society).
Benedict XVI’s letter stressed that the cardinal’s book reflects a multilayered approach to faith. He said this approach “will be food for thought also for readers who are not part of the Church.”
The book, published by Vatican Publishing House, collects Cardinal Bertone’s speeches and remarks on Catholic social teaching.
In his letter, the pope emeritus said the book reminded him of “the years of work together” and showed him once again that there are multiple dimensions in being a “shepherd of the Church.”
“Pastoral care does not just deal with the fact that we in the Church provide to the faithful the service of the sacraments and of the announcement of the Gospel,” Benedict XVI wrote.
Pastoral care, he explained, “definitely includes the intellectual dimension.”
“Only if we share the perspective and questions of our times we will be able to understand the word of God in present times,” he said.
Benedict XVI added that “only if we (shepherds) take part in the opportunity and needs of our times will the sacraments reach out to men with their actual strength.”
He reflected on the mutual collaboration between himself and Cardinal Bertone, saying this “could not be merely limited to concrete acts of governing.” Rather, their partnership went more deeply, “even to the commitment to serve today, in the right way, the Word of God, the Logos.”