According to an Italian bishop, Benedict XVI is concluding work on what was to have been his encyclical on faith, and Pope Francis will be writing an encyclical on poverty.
“Benedict XVI is finishing writing the encyclical on faith which will be signed by Pope Francis. Following this, he himself will prepare his first encyclical on the poor: Beati pauperes,” Bishop Luigi Martella of the Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi diocese wrote May 23 on his diocesan website.
“Beati pauperes” is Latin for “Blessed are the poor,” and Bishop Martella added that it is to be about poverty “understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in the sense of the Gospel.”
Bishop Martella learned of these developments from Pope Francis earlier this month, while meeting with him. The bishops of the Italian region of Puglia travelled to Rome for their “ad limina” meeting with the Roman Pontiff from May 13 to 16.
The Bishop of Rome “wished to make a confidence, almost a revelation,” to the Puglian episcopacy, Bishop Martella wrote, in telling them of the encyclicals.
In April, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi had said he “would not exclude” the possibility of Pope Francis issuing his first encyclical “within this year.”
Benedict's had been preparing an encyclical on the virtue of faith when he announced his abdication on Feb. 11.
The following day, Fr. Lombardi said it “remains an awaited document, but one that we will not have in the way we expected, perhaps we will have it in a different way.”
Should Pope Francis promulgate Benedict's faith encyclical, it would not be the first time that one Pope has signed off on the work of another. It is reported that “Deus Caritas est,” Benedict's first encyclical, was based on unfinished writings of John Paul II.
In October, a high-ranking curial official told “Vatican Insider” that the text, even unfinished, “is beautiful. Benedict XVI manages to express even the most complex and very deep truths using simple language which has a widespread reach that goes beyond all imagination.”
The initial intention of the encyclical on faith was to form a trilogy with two of Benedict's other encyclicals on the theological virtues, “Spe salvi” and “Deus Caritas est.”
Before Benedict's decision to abdicate his role as Bishop of Rome, a Vatican official said “we expect it will be published during the Year of Faith.”
In his revelatory post on his diocesan website, Bishop Martella discussed the general topics touched on at the Puglian ad limina. He called Pope Francis an “extraordinary man” of “disarming simplicity.”
The Roman Pontiff spoke of his predecessor with “great kindness,” saying Benedict is “doing much better now,” after looking rather exhausted during their first meeting at Castelgandolfo, shortly after Pope Francis' election.
During ad liminas, bishops relate to the Roman Bishop the situation in their dioceses. Bishop Martella says he stressed to Pope Francis the goodness of the people of Molfetta, and that the area is “a land of welcome and of immigration.”
“I spontaneously told him: 'Your Holiness, visit Molfetta, we would be very happy,'” Bishop Martella wrote. “In response I got a beautiful smile, and I realized that the request was premature.”
Updated on May 29, 2013 at 12:02 p.m. MST: Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has confirmed that Pope Francis will be completing Benedict XVI's encyclical on faith, not the retired pontiff.