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Pope Benedict Releases First Encyclical on Meaning of Love

Pope Benedict XVI has published his first encyclical letter, titled "God is Love," or "Deus est Caritas," in Latin. The pope, who has said the term love is abused in today's world, has focused his document on the meaning of human and divine love. The encyclical letter is a pastoral teaching to the followers of the Roman Catholic Church.

Love and charity are the focus of Pope Benedict's first encyclical. The document was issued nine months after the pope's election and is titled God is Love.

Presenting the new encyclical at the Vatican, Monsignor William Levada said it was the pope's wish to give the Church a strong document on the center of Christian faith.

This is a powerful text, Monsignor Levada said, which wants to speak out against the misuse of the name of God and the ambiguity of the notion of love.

The pope has said the word love has been wasted and abused in the modern world. In the document, he distinguishes between erotic love between a man and a woman and unconditional and self-giving love. He said the two concepts are most unified in marriage between man and woman and warned that sex without unconditional love risked turning men and women into merchandise.

The pope acknowledges that in the past the Church, with all its commandments and prohibitions, was seen as having been opposed to the body. But he adds the current way of exalting bodily love is deceptive.

The document is divided into two parts. Monsignor Levada says the first part is more speculative and aimed at clarifying essential facts concerning the love, which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man. The second, he says, is more concrete and is dedicated to charity and charitable works as an extension of God's love for humanity.

Monsignor Levada says the encyclical urges the Church to renewed commitment in the service of charity as an essential part of its existence and mission.

In the encyclical, Pope Benedict says the Church does not seek to replace the state or take up a political battle anywhere. But it could not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice and would continue its charity work to alleviate suffering.

But the pope stressed that the church's charity workers must never use their work to win converts or to push a particular political ideology. Love is free, he said, and it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends.

Monsignor Levada said that in his first encyclical the pope reveals he is a pastor in the mind and in the heart. The pope, he said, teaches God is love and to open our hearts to the needs of others.