Pope Francis’s extraordinary Aug. 20 letter “to the People of God” undoubtedly inspired many people around the world to seek out this letter — published in seven languages only six days after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report — on the Vatican website.
By visiting w2.vatican.va/content/vatican/en.html, you will have before you a most valuable English “portal” to the contents of the site.
The top left provides links to information on Pope Francis, including his various writings. The top right is dedicated to the latest news issuing from the Vatican.
Scroll down a bit and you will find a row of round portraits of all of the popes throughout history. You may find it curious that they are in what most of us would consider reverse chronological order. These portraits are found in the original as mosaics on the interior walls of the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and this is the order in which they are physically placed there.
The most recent popes, you will discover upon clicking on their portraits, have various documents of theirs readily accessible on the site.
Until I accessed it on the web a few days ago, I had never read Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), the encyclical letter of St. John XXIII, which was issued on April 11, 1963, just a few weeks before his death. I was happy to discover and enjoy the very straightforward and heartfelt language of the beloved Pope John. An example:
“As we know from experience, men frequently differ widely in knowledge, virtue, intelligence and wealth, but that is no valid argument in favor of a system whereby those who are in a position of superiority impose their will arbitrarily on others. On the contrary, such men have a greater share in the common responsibility to help others to reach perfection by their mutual efforts.
“So, too, on the international level: some nations may have attained to a superior degree of scientific, cultural and economic development. But that does not entitle them to exert unjust political domination over other nations. It means that they have to make a greater contribution to the common cause of social progress.” (87, 88)
Alas, the popes prior to Leo XIII (1878-1903) have few documents in their part of the site which have been translated into English. But note especially Leo’s 1891 encyclical letter Rerum Novarum (Of New Things), which addressed the challenges of a newly industrialized world and the need to affirm the rights of workers in an ever more complex human society.
Below the popes there is a link to a “resource library” or “archive.” Currently among the reference works are: the Bible; the Catechism of the Catholic Church; Codes of Canon Law, Ecumenical Councils (Vatican I and II only, and only Vatican II is in English); Jubilee 2000; Official Acts of the Holy See (Latin); and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), of course, gave us the expression “the People of God” by which to refer to the reality of the church in our world. We, the People of God, have much to gain by reading and studying the history of the followers of Jesus and by becoming ever more confident in bringing his Good News into the world.