Original in Italian: Personal Letter to the Cardinal Secretary of State, 20 May 1982
From the beginning of my pontificate, I felt that the Church’s dialogue with the cultures of our time was a vital field, in which the fate of the world in this part of the twentieth century. Indeed, there is a fundamental dimension, able to consolidate or shake it to the ground systems that structure the whole of humanity, and to liberate human existence, individual and collective, from threats on it. This fundamental dimension of man is, in its entirety. Now man lives a fully human life thanks to culture. “Yes, the future of man depends on the culture,” I stated in my speech on June 2, 1980 UNESCO, addressing interlocutors so diverse in their backgrounds and their beliefs, adding: “We find ourselves in the field of culture, fundamental reality that unites us … We gather around the man and thereby in a sense, in him, man. ”
For these reasons, since November 15, 1979, I wanted to see, on the fundamental issue of the responsibilities of the Holy See in the face of culture, all the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals gathered in Rome, and subsequently, 17 December 1980, the Heads of the departments, to discuss with them the views collected in the consultation, which I had, meanwhile, instructed the Cardinal Gabriel-Marie Garrone.
Finally, at my request, he has inspired the reflections of a Council, consisting of 25 November 1981, and asked to study concretely, in the space of a few months, how best to ensure the relations of the Church and the Holy See with the culture, in all its various expressions.
I wish to express the venerable and dear Cardinal my deep gratitude for the exemplary work he has done for this purpose, with the generous contribution of organisms in a close relationship with the world of culture: the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, the Secretariat for non-Believers, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and the Research Centre of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.
It ‘now time to build on this work. For this reason it seems appropriate to base a special permanent body, with the aim of promoting the major objectives that the Second Vatican Council has brought about the relations between the Church and culture. In fact, the Council pointed out, whole section of the Pastoral Constitution “Gaudium et Spes,” the fundamental importance of culture for the full development of man, the many links between the message of salvation and culture, the mutual enrichment of Church and of different cultures throughout the history of civilizations, as well as the need for believers to understand the thinking and feeling of other men of his time, as well as express themselves in their respective cultures (“Gaudium et Spes , “53-62).
In the footsteps of the Council, the session of the Synod of Bishops, held in the autumn of 1974, took a clear awareness of the role of the different cultures in the evangelization of peoples. And my predecessor Paul VI, reaping the benefits of his work in the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi”, declared: “The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not identical with culture and are independent in regard to all cultures. However, the Kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the construction of the Kingdom can not avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them, but able to engage them all without becoming subject to any “(n. 20).
Collecting too the rich heritage of the Ecumenical Council of the Synod of Bishops and of my venerable predecessor Pope Paul VI, 1 and 2 June 1980 I proclaimed in Paris, before the Catholic Institute, and then before exceptional meeting of ‘UNESCO, and the organic link that exists between Christianity and culture, with the man, then, in his own humanity. This binding of the Gospel with the man, I said in my speech to quell’areopago of men and women of culture and science of the whole world, “is, in fact, the creator of culture in its very foundation.” And, if the culture is that by which man, as man becomes more human, is at stake in it, the same destiny. Hence the importance for the Church, who is responsible, careful and farsighted pastoral action with regard to culture, especially in what is called living culture, that is, the set of principles and values that make up ‘ethos of a people: “The synthesis between culture and faith is not only a demand of culture, but also of faith … A faith that does not become culture is a faith not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived “(” Address to the National Congress of the Ecclesial Movement of Cultural Engagement “:” Teachings, “V, 1  131), as I said January 16, 1982.
Certainly many organizations working for a long time in the Church in this area (see “Sapientia Christiana”) and countless Christians who, according to the Council, strive, together with many believers and non-believers, “let every man and social groups of every people, to achieve the full development of their cultural life, in accordance with the skills and traditions of their own “(” Gaudium et Spes, “60). Even where agnostic ideologies hostile to the Christian tradition, or even avowedly atheist, inspired by certain masters of thought, the greater is the urgent need for the Church to weave a dialogue with the cultures so that the man of today can discover that God far from being rival of man, gives him to be fully realized, in his own image and likeness. In fact, the man knows infinitely beyond himself, as they demonstrate, clearly, the efforts of many genes creators make to embody lasting works of art and thought transcendent values of beauty and truth, more or less fleeting insights as an expression of the absolute. So the meeting of cultures is now a ground for dialogue between humans engaged in the search for a new humanism for our time, beyond the differences that separate them: “We, too – Paul VI said on behalf of all the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council, of which I was a member – we have more than anyone else the cult of man “(Address to the closing of Vatican II, December 7, 1965). It proclaimed before the General Assembly of the United Nations: “The Church is an expert in humanity” (4 October 1965): that humanity which it serves with love. Love is like a great force hidden in the heart of cultures, to urge them to overcome their finiteness irremediable opening them to the One who is the source and the term, and to give them, as you open to his grace, an enrichment of fullness.
On the other hand, it is urgent that our contemporaries, and especially Catholics, examine seriously the conditions that underlie the development of peoples. It ‘increasingly clear that cultural progress is closely linked to the construction of a more just and fraternal world. As I said in Hiroshima, February 25, 1981, representatives of science and culture gathered at the University of the United Nations: “The construction of a more just humanity or a more united international community is not a dream or an ideal space. It ‘a moral imperative, a sacred duty, that the intellectual and spiritual genius can deal with a new mobilization of the talents and energies of everyone and taking advantage of all the technical and cultural man “(” Teaching “, IV 1  545).
Consequently, by virtue of my apostolic mission, I feel the responsibility lies with me, in the heart of the collegiality of the Church universal, and contact and agreement with the local Churches, to intensify relations between the Holy See and all the achievements of culture, ensuring a original report in a fruitful international collaboration within the family of nations, that of the great “community of men united in a different, but above all, essentially the culture” (“Address to UNESCO,” June 2, 1980 “teachings “III  1636ss).
For this reason, I decided to start and set up a Council for Culture, able to give to the whole Church a common impulse in the encounter, continually renewed, the saving message of the Gospel with the plurality of cultures, diversity of peoples, which should bear fruit of grace.
So, Mr. Cardinal, knowing how much she participates closely to my concerns after carefully weighed the reasons expressed above, and have also considered the opportunities in prayer, foster care to oversee the organization of the Pontifical Council for Culture , which includes a Board and an Executive Committee, as well as an International Council, consisting of qualified representatives of the Catholic culture world, which shall be convened at least once a year. Through it, the Pontifical Council remain tied directly to me, as a new, and original, reflection and experience will gradually structuring adequately, since the Church does not stand in front of the cultures from ‘outside, but from within, like leaven, because of the organic and constitutive link that unites them closely.
The Council will pursue its objectives in an ecumenical spirit and fraternal, while also promoting the dialogue with non-Christian religions, and individuals or groups that do not refer to any religion in the common search for a cultural communication with all people of good will.
It will regularly to the Holy See the echo of the great cultural aspirations of today’s world, deepening the expectations of contemporary civilizations and exploring new avenues of cultural dialogue, so as to enable the Pontifical Council for Culture to better respond to the tasks for which has been set up and are in broad outline:
1. Testify before the Church and the world, the deep interest that the Holy See, for its specific mission, lends to the advancement of culture and fruitful dialogue of cultures, as well as beneficial to their encounter with the Gospel.
2. And to take part of the cultural concerns that the offices of the Holy See will encounter in their work, in order to facilitate the coordination of their duties for the evangelization of cultures, and ensure the cooperation of the cultural institutions of the Holy See.
3. Dialogue with the Episcopal Conferences, also in order to benefit the whole Church of research, initiatives, achievements and creations that allow local Churches active presence in their learning environments.
4. Collaborate with International Organizations Catholic universities, historical, philosophical, theological, scientific, artistic, intellectual, and promote mutual cooperation.
5. Following, in terms that it is his own, and always subject to the specific competence of other bodies in the Curia, the activities of international organizations, starting with UNESCO and the Council for Cultural Cooperation of the Council of Europe, which are interested in culture, philosophy of science, science of man, and to ensure the effective participation of the Holy See in international congresses concerned with science, culture and education.
6. Follow the political and cultural action of governments throughout the world, legitimately concerned to give full human dimension to the promotion of the common good of men of whom they are responsible.
7. Facilitate Church-culture dialogue at the level of universities and research centers, organizations of artists and specialists, researchers and scholars, and promote meaningful encounters with these cultural worlds.
8. Welcome to the representatives of the Roma culture interested in better understanding the Church’s action in this field and to grant the Holy See of their rich experience, offering them in Rome a place of meeting and dialogue.
Gradually put in place, under its senior management and according to the possibilities, but glossy and ongoing commitment to these broad guidelines will certainly be a witness and a pulse.
And ‘with great faith and with great hope, Your Eminence, that entrust such an important task, I cordially invoke upon this initiative, today so timely and necessary because of the abundance of divine help.
With my special Apostolic Blessing.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s Basilica on the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, May 20, 1982, the fourth year of my pontificate.
Phi Beta Iota: Emphasis above added. This was and remains an initiative of John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI, in an unprecedented resignation of his office, has presided over a Church that has failed in three bigs ways: 1) it covered up and allowed to persist the culture of pedophilia, causing some to suggest that the Catholic Church keeps one foot in hell; 2) it failed to restore liberation theology and make defense of the poor its signal mission; and 3) despite some significant initiatives, including the naming of a Protestant to head the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Church has been less than relevant at the core mission described in the founding letter of John Paul II with respect to the Pontifical Council for Culture: the Church has failed to connect with man and with culture, and thus failed to be relevant to the elevation of humanity in shared culture as evangelization. The criminal ties and covert operations of a number of Catholic orders is also of continuing concern.
On 11 December 2010, Ravasi was named a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education for a five-year renewable term. On 29 December 2010, he was appointed the first member of the new Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation and also a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligous Dialogue.
A key goal of his papacy was to transform and reposition the Catholic Church. His wish was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”.