Pope Francis marked the 10th anniversary of Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est by telling participants in a conference commemorating the document that not only is love God’s identity, but it’s also the very heart and life of the Church.

“God does not simply have the desire or capacity to love; God is love: Charity is his essence; it is his nature,” the Pope said Feb. 26.

He said that while God is unique, he’s “not solitary; he cannot be alone; he cannot be closed in on himself, because he is communion; he is charity; and charity, by its nature, is communicated and shared.”

Pope Francis spoke to participants at a Feb. 25-26 conference celebrating Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, God Is Love.

The document, Francis said, touches on a theme that retraces “the entire history of the Church, which is also a history of charity. It is a story of the love received from God, to be carried to the world.”

Charity doesn’t mean “simply almsgiving to ease one’s conscience,” he said, but consists of “loving attentiveness towards the other, which considers the other as one with himself and desires to share friendship with God.”

He said that the current Jubilee of Mercy is an opportune time “to return to this beating heart of our life and our witness, to the center of the proclamation of faith: God is love.”

Deus Caritas Est was published Dec. 25, 2005, just eight months after Benedict’s election as Bishop of Rome.

Entitled “Love Never Fails: Perspectives 10 years After the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est,” the conference drew participants from all over the world to discuss the encyclical from theological and charitable perspectives, as well as the perspective of other religions, such as Judaism and Islam.

It was organized by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which was founded by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1971 to oversee the Holy See’s charitable initiatives, including aid to the poor and humanitarian relief.

In his speech to the conference participants, Pope Francis said that one of the first things Benedict’s encyclical draws us to “is the face of God: Who is the God we can encounter in Christ? How faithful and unsurpassable is his love?”

Every expression of love, solidarity and mutual sharing are only “a reflection” of the love which is God, he said, explaining that God never tires of loving us, so we are, therefore, called to be witnesses to this love throughout the world.

“We should look to divine charity as the compass that orients our lives, before embarking on any activity: There we find direction; from charity, we learn how to see our brothers and sisters and the world [correctly],” Francis observed.

He said the encyclical also serves as a reminder that charity needs to be increasingly reflected in the life and activities of the Church.

“How I wish that everyone in the Church, every institution, every activity would show that God loves man!” he said, explaining that the mission of the Church’s charitable organizations is crucial, because they provide the impoverished with a more dignified life.

This mission “is of utmost importance because, not with words, but with concrete love, it can make every person feel loved by the Father,” he said, and he thanked all those who are committed to this mission, “which challenges every Christian.”

Pope Francis said that his goal for the Year of Mercy is that everyone can experience the grace of the jubilee by practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

To really live the works of mercy, he said, “means to conjugate the verb ‘to love,’ according to Jesus. In this way, all of us together can contribute concretely to the great mission of the Church: to communicate the love of God, which is meant to be spread.”

Francis closed his speech by pointing to the timeliness of the encyclical’s message, which indicates “the ever relevant prospect for the Church’s journey.”

“The more we live in this spirit, the more authentic we all are as Christians.”

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