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Pope Francis issues 1st encyclical on faith written with Benedict XVI


June 26, 2013: Pope Francis delivers his speech in St. Peter's square at the Vatican during his weekly general audience.

Pope Francis issued his first encyclical Friday, a meditation on faith that is unique because it was written with someone else: Benedict XVI.

Benedict's hand is evident throughout much of the first three chapters of "The Light of Faith," with his theological style, concerns and reference points clear.

Francis' priorities come through strongest in the final chapter, where the Argentine Jesuit insists on the role of faith in serving the common good and giving hope to those who suffer.

He cites his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, as well as Mother Teresa, in saying "How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer!" And he concludes with a prayer to Mary, to whom he is particularly devoted.

The encyclical didn't appear to break any new ground in church teaching, its novelty was entirely in the dual authorship, signed and unsigned.

Francis acknowledges in the introduction that he merely "added a few contributions of my own" to Benedict's "fine" first draft, which the German theologian left unfinished when he retired in February. Together, the two popes crafted the final installment of Benedict's conceived trio of encyclicals on the three Christian theological virtues: charity, hope and faith.

Francis, however, gets publishing rights and he alone signed the short, 82-page encyclical, which is the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue. It was signed on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a feast day important for the unity of the church that was perhaps appropriate given the document's combined authorship by the two successors of Peter.

And as if to underscore the shared message, Francis and Benedict were together Friday morning for the inauguration of a new monument inside the Vatican gardens -- the first time they have been seen together since May 2, when Francis welcomed Benedict back to the Vatican after his initial retirement getaway.

The two men in white embraced one another, and both sat on chairs in front of the monument for the duration of the ceremony, the Vatican press office said.

At a press conference launching the document, Vatican officials took pains to stress that this was Francis' document, even though it contained issues dear to Benedict and was drafted by him initially.

"The pope is Francis," said Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, the head of the Vatican's doctrine office. "It's not signed by two popes because we only have one pope."

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Vatican's evangelization office, said Francis' style, citations and "peculiarities" come through and represent "a true introduction to his magisterium and allow us to understand better the pastoral style that distinguishes him."