Benedict XVI received representatives from the Confederation of Italian Cooperatives, and from the Italian Federation of Cooperative Credit Banks, who were accompanied by their ecclesiastical assistant Msgr. Adriano Vincenzi.
In his remarks on December 11, the Pope dwelt on the importance Catholic cooperatives have had in Italy since their emergence in the wake of Leo XIII's Encyclical "Rerum novarum". That document, the 120th anniversary of which falls this year, "favored the fruitful presence of Catholics in Italian society through the promotion of cooperative and mutual societies, the development of social enterprises and many other public works characterized by various forms of participation and self-management. The purpose of such activity has always been to provide material support for people and constant attention to families, drawing inspiration from the Magisterium of the Church", he said.
"The heart of cooperative efforts has always lain in the search for harmony between the individual and community dimensions. This is a concrete expression of the complementarity and subsidiarity which Church social doctrine has always sought to promote between citizens and the State, a balance between safeguarding the rights of the individual and promoting the common good, in order to develop a local economy capable of responding to community needs. Cooperative activities are likewise characterized by their great concern for solidarity, while still respecting the due autonomy of the individual".
"In a period of great change, of persistent economic uncertainty, and of difficulties in the world of work, the Church feels the need to announce Christ's message with renewed vigor. ... And you, dear friends, must be aware that Catholic cooperatives have an important role to play in this field", the Pope said.
Benedict XVI invited members of cooperatives to make their specific contribution "to ensure that the economy and the market never neglect solidarity", in order "to promote a culture of life and the family, and to favor the creation of new families with access to dignified work which respects the creation that God has entrusted to our responsibility and care". He also invited them "to value man in his entirety, irrespective of any difference in race, language or religion".
Finally, the Pope recalled how Catholic cooperatives are characterized by their "Christian inspiration, which must constantly guide them", because "for Christians loving others is not mere philanthropy but an expression of the love of God. ... Never forget the importance of developing this spiritual dimension as you seek to respond to contemporary challenges and social emergencies, in order to continue to work in the logic of gratuitousness and responsibility, promoting wise and sober consumption".