Pope Francis: Theology in ‘Dialogue With Cultures’ Renews Humanity

An African theologian and an award-winning Canadian Catholic philosopher received the Ratzinger Prize this year.

2019 Ratzinger Prize winners, Father Paul Béré.and Charles Taylor, pose with Pope Francis Nov. 9.
2019 Ratzinger Prize winners, Father Paul Béré.and Charles Taylor, pose with Pope Francis Nov. 9. (photo: Vatican Media/National Catholic Register)

VATICAN CITY — When theology and philosophy engage with cultures in creative ways, they become a powerful tool for renewing humanity with the word of God, Pope Francis said Saturday, during the awarding of the 2019 Ratzinger Prize.

“This is true for all cultures: Access to redemption for humanity in all of its dimensions should be sought with creativity and imagination,” the Pope said Nov. 9.

He quoted St. Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which says, “Evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”

“It is a duty for theology to be and remain in active dialogue with cultures, even as they change over time and evolve differently in various parts of the world,” he said. “It is a condition necessary for the vitality of Christian faith, for the Church’s mission of evangelization.”

“All the arts and disciplines,” Francis said, “thus cooperate in contributing to the full growth of the human person, which is to be found ultimately in the encounter with the living Person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, the revelation of the God who is love.”

Pope Francis addressed members of the Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI Foundation in the Vatican's apostolic palace during the award ceremony for the 2019 edition of the prestigious Ratzinger Prize.

The Ratzinger Prize was begun in 2011 to recognize scholars whose work demonstrates a meaningful contribution to theology or philosophy in the spirit of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Bavarian theologian who became Benedict XVI.

The winners of the 2019 prize are Catholic intellectual Charles Taylor and Jesuit priest and theologian Father Paul Béré.

Father Béré is the first African to win the prestigious Ratzinger Prize. A lecturer at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, he received the prize for his work on the figure of the prophet Joshua.

From Burkina Faso, Father Béré spoke in September on the need for an “Africanness” within the Catholic approach to addressing regional problems.

“Africa can find a solution to all its problems within; what we [Africans] simply need is the slightest desire to share the solutions across the continent,” Father Beré told ACI Africa Sept. 28 at the Nairobi tri-party conference on the status of the evangelization mission in Africa.

Father Beré is a member of several African theological associations and of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). He has also participated as an expert in several synods of bishops.

After the announcement that he had won the prize, he told Vatican News: “I think this is an encouragement for all theological work done in Africa.”

Pope Francis Nov. 9 praised Father Beré as a “renowned scholar of sacred Scripture” and he expressed his appreciation and encouragement for all those who are “committed to inculturation of the faith in Africa through their original and deepened study.”

Contemporary African theology is still young, but it is “dynamic and full of promise,” the Pope said. “Father Béré provides an example of this by his work on the interpretation of Old Testament texts in a context of oral culture, thus bringing to fruition the experience of African culture.”

Charles Taylor, 88, is an award-winning Canadian Catholic philosopher who has taught at Oxford and at the University of Montreal and McGill University.

His focus has been in the areas of history of philosophy, most especially political philosophy and the philosophy of social science. One of Taylor’s many notable contributions reated to the topics of religion, modernity and secularization.

“During his years of active research and teaching, professor Taylor has covered many fields, but he has particularly devoted his mind and heart to understanding the phenomenon of secularization in our time,” Francis noted.

“Secularization effectively poses a significant challenge for the Catholic Church, indeed for all Christians, and for all believers in God,” he said, adding that a priority of Benedict XVI’s pontificate was to “proclaim God anew” during a time “when that proclamation seems to be on the wane for a large part of humanity.”

The Pope said, “Few scholars in the present day have posed the problem of secularization with the breadth of vision as has professor Taylor.”

“We are indebted to him for the profound manner in which he has treated the problem, carefully analyzing the development of Western culture, the movements of the human mind and heart over time, identifying the characteristics of modernity in their complex relationships, in their shadows and lights.”

Taylor’s work invites Catholics to seek “new ways to live and express the transcendent dimensions of the human soul,” he continued, which allows them to engage with secularization in the West “in a way that is neither superficial nor given to fatalistic discouragement.”

“This is needed not only for a reflection on contemporary culture, but also for an in-depth dialogue and discernment in order to adopt the spiritual attitudes suitable for living, witnessing, expressing and proclaiming the faith in our time,” he stated.

Despite coming from very different backgrounds and continents, the two honorees of the 2019 Ratzinger Prize have dedicated themselves to seeking “the way to God and the encounter with Christ,” Francis said.

“This,” he added, “is the mission of all who follow the teaching of Joseph Ratzinger as theologian and pope, to be “co-workers of the truth.”

The honorees of the Ratzinger Prize are chosen by Pope Francis, based upon the recommendations of a committee composed of Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Cardinals Angelo Amato, Kurt Koch, Gianfranco Ravasi and Luis Ladaria, who are heads of offices in the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis said Nov. 9, that “we are all grateful” for the teaching of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI “and for his exemplary service to the Church, demonstrated by his reflections, his thought and study, his listening, dialogue and prayer.”

“His aim was that we might consciously retain a lively faith despite the changing times and situations; and that believers could give an account of their faith in a language that can be understood by their contemporaries, entering into dialogue with them, together seeking pathways of authentic encounter with God in our time,” he said.

“This has always been a keen desire of Joseph Ratzinger the theologian and pastor, who never closed himself off in a disembodied culture of pure concepts, but gave us the example of seeking truth where reason and faith, intelligence and spirituality, are constantly integrated.”