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Pope Francis finished encyclical started by Pope Benedict

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 8, 2013 - Pope Francis quotes St. Louis native T.S. Eliot in his first encyclical released late last week. "Lumen Fidei" is a teaching theological document in which Francis says that faith lights the path of the Christian's journey and shores up trust in the wider community.

Quoting the great poet is a nod to the Americas by this first pope of the Americas as well as an ecumenical gesture.

Pope Francis teamed with Pope Benedict to write about how removing faith from "our cities" would weaken mutual trust and people would only be united by fear. The document's authors quote what they call Eliot's warning:

"Do you need to be told that even those modest attainments

 As you can boast in the way of polite society

Will hardly survive the Faith to which they owe their significance?"

Eliot's poetic lines are from his "Choruses from The Rock" published in his "Collected Poems and Plays, 1909-1950.

In the encyclical's English translation released by the Vatican, tone and flow of the often densely packed teaching document are varied. Sometimes the voice is solemn and professorial; sometimes engaging, joyful preaching. Its laser-like call to have faith in God and Jesus Christ never varies.

The tone changes, no doubt, because Francis, who signed it, gave thanks that much of it was written by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI as part of a planned three-part encyclical series. Benedict released the other two parts on charity and hope during his papal tenure. Last winter when he resigned he said he hoped the uncompleted third part would eventually be released.

On Friday, for the first time, pope and the pope emeritus, both wearing white cassocks, appeared together in public in the Vatican gardens for a brief dedication ceremony of a statue of the Archangel Michael and the dedication of the Vatican City to his protection. Benedict now lives in a house in the gardens.

Eliot, who grew up near the northwest corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Locust Street, was raised Unitarian by his staunchly Unitarian family. His grandfather, the Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot, was the founder of Washington University. The poet became a high-church Anglican, what he called an Anglo-Catholic, after he moved to England. Many of his later writings, especially "The Four Quartets," are deeply spiritual, autobiographical works. Time magazine called Eliot the greatest 20th-century poet writing in English. 

The encyclical writers also stand on the shoulders of many other writers and quote from another 20th-century intellectual, the Austrian-born Jewish existentialist philosopher Martin Buber.

"Lumen Fidei" also quotes such early church leaders as Irenaeus of Lyon, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, and later writers Dante, Second Vatican Council documents and, of course, the Old and New Testament. 

The document's English translation prints out as 23 8"-by-10", single-spaced pages. It will be studied worldwide in Catholic parish small groups, Catholic schools and seminary classes and ecumenical groups over the next few years.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

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