Pope Urges Rethinking Church-State Relationship

Reminds France That Their Roots Are Christian

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PARIS, SEPT. 12, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A new reflection of the relationship between Church and State needs to take into account not only the need to protect religious freedom, but also the contribution faith can make to society, says Benedict XVI.



The Pope said this today when meeting with French politicians at the Elysée Palace. He is currently visiting Paris, and will travel to Lourdes on Saturday to mark the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous.

France, the Holy Father said, "boasts a history of 1,000 years, a present marked by a wealth of activity and a future of promise."

"France is often at the heart of the Pope’s prayers," he continued. "He cannot forget all that she has contributed to the Church in the course of 20 centuries!"

"The roots of France -- like those of Europe -- are Christian," the Pontiff said. "History itself offers sufficient proof of this: From its origins, your country received the Gospel message."

Benedict XVI made reference to President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Rome last December, during which the leader of France discussed a vision of "positive secularity" in an address at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

The Pope said that while there are many reflections on the relationship that should exist between the Church and the state, "Christ had already offered the basic criterion upon which a just solution to the problem."

"He does this when," the Pontiff explained, "in answer to a question, he said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Holy Father continued: "At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of "laïcité" [secularity] is now necessary.

"In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the state toward them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to -- among other things -- the creation of a basic ethical consensus within society."

Concerns

Benedict XVI shared his worries for "today’s world which offers few spiritual aspirations and few material certainties."

"My greatest concern," he said, "is for young people. Some of them are struggling to find the right direction or are suffering from a loss of connection to family life. Still others are testing out the limits of religious communitarianism.

"Sometimes on the margins and often left to themselves, they are vulnerable and must come to terms on their own with a reality that often overwhelms them.

"It is necessary to offer them a sound educational environment and to encourage them to respect and assist others if they are to develop serenely towards the age of responsibility."

The Pope said that he is also concerned for the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the Western world: "I am certain that just solutions can be found that go beyond the necessary immediate assistance and address the heart of the problems, so as to protect the weak and promote their dignity."

"I am also concerned about the state of our planet," the Holy Father added. "With great generosity, God has entrusted to us the world that he created. We must learn to respect and protect it more.

"It seems to me that the time has come for more constructive proposals so as to guarantee the good of future generations. "

Uncertain times

Benedict XVI noted that France currently holds the presidency of the European Union, saying this "gives France the opportunity to bear witness -- in accord with her noble tradition -- to human rights and to their promotion for the good of individuals and society."

"When Europeans see and experience personally that the inalienable rights of the human person from conception to natural death -- rights to free education, to family life, to work, and naturally those concerned with religion -- when Europeans see that these rights, which form an inseparable unity, are promoted and respected, then they will understand fully the greatness of the enterprise that is the European Union, and will become active artisans of the same," he said.

The Pope continued: "These are uncertain times, and it is an arduous task to find the right path among the meanderings of day-to-day social, economic, national and international affairs.

"In particular, as we face the danger of a resurgence of old suspicions, tensions, and conflicts among nations -- which we are troubled to witness today -- France, which historically has been sensitive to reconciliation between peoples, is called to help Europe build up peace within her boarders and throughout the world."

He said that France must encourage a "unity that neither can nor desires to become a uniformity, but is able to guarantee respect for national differences and different cultural traditions, which amount to an enrichment of the European symphony."

"I express my confidence," the Holy Father added, "that your country will contribute increasingly to the progress of this age toward serenity, harmony and peace."