VATICAN CITY – Faith and charity can never be separated nor opposed to each other, just as faith by itself isn't genuine without charity, Pope Benedict said.
"Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it; charity is 'walking' in the truth," the pope said in his annual message for Lent, which begins Feb. 13 for Latin-rite Catholics.
"Faith is genuine only if crowned by charity."
"It would be too one-sided to place a strong emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague humanitarianism," Pope Benedict said.
"It is equally unhelpful to overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if works could take the place of faith."
At a news conference to present the message, Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes Catholic charitable giving, told reporters, that the pope's message underlines the indissoluble link between faith and charity.
It is misguided to see faith as an abstract, intellectual endeavour and charity as the concrete or practical side of the Church, he said. Neither faith nor charity should be favoured over the other.
"It's convenient for many, inside and outside" the Church, to see it as divorced from the real world, he said.
In that view, churchgoers are "inebriated from the scent of candles, busy putting the sacristy in order, focused on obscure theological debates and clerical quarrels rather than on the integral human person Christ spoke to," Sarah said.
Another mistake, he said, is seeing the Church as another large philanthropic agency for which social justice and meeting people's physical needs are the primary concerns, "forgetting that the desire for God lies at a person's core."
The theme of the pope's message, "Believing in charity calls forth charity," was taken from the First Letter of St. John (4.16): "We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us."
In the context of the Year of Faith, the pope dedicated his message to the relationship between faith and charity, which he also explored in his 2005 encyclical on charity (Deus Caritas Est).
All Christians, especially charity workers, need faith - that personal encounter with God in Christ and the experience of his love, the pope said.
"Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ's love and accordingly, under the influence of that love, they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways," he said.
A Christian life starts with accepting God's gift of faith with "wonder and gratitude;" but it is a journey that continues as God seeks "to transform us" to become more like Christ and share his love with others.
"Only then does our faith become truly 'active through love;' only then does he abide in us" he said.
"The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God's own love," he said.