Pope's first encyclical expected in January

According to Italian press reports, Pope Benedict XVI plans to sign off on his first encyclical on Christmas Day, and the document will be made public after the feast of the Epiphany.

Catholic World News says the Italian media report claims that the encyclical will be a 40-page letter. Previous reports had suggested that the Pope signed the document on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 40th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II.

The encyclical is believed to be entitled, God is Love. The phrase is derived from the Gospel of St John. Traditionally, encyclicals take their titles from opening words.

The text, according to inside Vatican sources, is a meditation on the indispensable role of Jesus Christ in the plan of salvation. The Pope's presentation, reflecting his training as a theologian, also discusses how divine love shapes, and is reflected by, in the charitable work of the Christian community.

The pontifical charity, Cor Unum, is said to have provided the Holy Father with detailed information about the charitable work of the Catholic Church as he prepared the encyclical. The encyclical was originally written in German, during the Pope's summer vacation in the Italian Alps. Observers had suspected that the Pope had a major writing project in mind when he arrived at the Alpine chalet with several cartons of books.

The text was then translated into an official Latin version. Italian and English translations are reportedly already near completion, and by the date of publication the document will also be available in several other languages.

Pope John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals during his long pontificate. The first, Redemptor Hominis, appeared in March 1979, less than five months after his election. The first encyclical is often seen as a sort of theological blueprint for his pontificate, setting forth the essential themes that he would stress during the 26 years that followed. The final encyclical by John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (doc), appeared in April 2000.

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23 Dec 2005