Looking at Leo XIII's Legacy

International Congress Recalls His View on Faith, Society and the Economy

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ROME, DEC. 11, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Leo XIII's ability to maintain relations with just about every sovereign state helped earn him the sobriquet "the Pope of peace," participants a congress heard.



The ongoing importance of the social and political thought of the Pontiff (1810-1903) was highlighted, on the centenary of his death, at the international congress entitled "Leo XIII, Timeliness of a Pope," held at the Palazzo Altieri.

The congress, which ended last Saturday, focused on two important challenges addressed by the Pope born Vincenzo Pecci: the elaboration of the Church's social doctrine, and the Church's dialogue with the modern world.

Professor Nikolaus Lobkowicz, of the University of Eichstatt, spoke about Leo XIII's diplomatic activity and political concern.

"He was able to maintain relations with all sovereign states -- except for the Italian House of Savoy -- and with all governments," Eichstatt said. "This is why he is known as 'the Pope of peace,' 'the politician Pope' and even 'teacher of politics.'"

The congress gathered specialists such as Andrea Riccardi, professor at the Rome III University and founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio; Jean Dominique Durand of the Lyon III University; Massimo Cacciari, of St. Raphael University of Milan; and Ernesto Galli della Logia, of the University of Perugia.

According to Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University, "It would not be correct to remember Pope Pecci only for the social encyclical 'Rerum Novarum.'"

Leo XIII faced "the end of temporal power, which occurred with the capture of Rome, and since 1870 laid the premises for a different presence of the Church in the world," Bishop Fisichella said.

"He had a lucid and keen intelligence, nourished by a passionate love of reading and study, especially of St. Thomas," he added.

Historian Giorgio Rumi, president of the committee for the events marking the centenary of Leo XIII's death, recalled that "Pope Pecci was the first Pope in 15 centuries who did not enjoy temporal power but only purely spiritual authority."

In fact, the papal territories had been annexed by the Italian republic, and an agreed solution, according to international law, was still pending between Italy and the Holy See.

Ferdinando Adornato, president of the Cultural Commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said: "Leo XIII's lessons of peace, his vision of society based on freedom and solidarity, his concept of a democracy strengthened by reference to truth are a precious light for any one who wishes to advance toward the future."

Leo XIII's role in the missions was also studied. Professor Claude Prudhomme of the Lyon II University said that Leo XIII "has not gone into posterity as a great missionary Pope and yet, in his pontificate he was able to integrate the foreign missions in the governance of the Church, bringing Rome closer to the mission."

The committee published a booklet on Michael Novak's address entitled "Human Dignity and Freedom of the Person," in which the U.S. scholar states that "Leo XIII was a precursor of contemporary economic theories, of the uselessness of socialism, and of the centrality of man."