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from issue no. 04 - 2009

Commemorations of the Rerum novarum

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

Pius XI’s Quadragesimo anno inaugurated a custom of commemorating – subsequently at intervals of ten years – the Church’s first social encyclical, the Rerum novarum which Leo XIII signed on May 15, 1891. Pope Pius XI’s text commemorating it as per its title, the 40th anniversary, is dated May 15, 1931. On the 50th anniversary, Pius XII dedicated a radio message to the Rerum, read on June 1 1941. To commemorate the 70th anniversary, John XXIII published the encyclical, Mater et Magistra (May 15, 1961). Ten years later, Paul VI wrote his Apostolic Letter, Octogesima adveniens (May 14, 1971). On the 90th, John Paul II promulgated the Encyclical, Laborem exercens (September 14, 1981) and, marking the centenary, he went on to publish the Centesimus annus encyclical (May 1, 1991). Only two anniversary years recorded no Pontifical interventions, 1951 and 2001. But, in the run-up to the 60th anniversary in 1951 the then reigning Pope, Pius XII, recalled “the immortal Encyclical, Rerum novarum,” at an audience on the Sunday of Pentecost (May 13) for Catholic workers, Italian and non, in Rome. They had been attending a rally promoted by the ACLI organization (Italian Association of Catholic Workers) to commemorate none other than the 60th anniversary of Leo XIII’s document.

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