President Giorgio Napolitano's Address to the Holy Father

"In Your Words We have Felt Vibrate the Spirit of the Second Vatican Council"

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Here is the translation of the address given by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to Pope Francis today during the Pope's first official visit to the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

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Your Holiness,

It is a privilege and a reason of sincere emotion to welcome and receive you in this Palace, an incomparable witness of history and creativity. To it we dedicate every care and still explore it, rediscovering and restoring  -- as we did in recent years – environments and legacies of art that date back to the 1600s, the work of Pontiffs such as Urban VIII and Alexander VII.

Of the extraordinary multi-secular heritage constituted by the Quirinale Palace, the Presidents of the Republic are only, since a few decades, passionate and respectful custodians, making it an open space and common home for all Italians.  

Here lives, Your Holiness, a history that you bear within you, for never having lost the imprint of the land of origin of your family, from which you were called “almost from the end of the world” to lead the Church from the Throne of Peter. And I would not like the formal solemnity  proper  -- by tradition and institutional weight – of this ceremony, to blur the expression of genuine sentiments of closeness and affection that your figure, your way of addressing all of us, your pastoral commitment, have awakened in our spirit from the first moments of your pontificate. They are sentiments and thoughts that touch us well beyond the fabric of relations between the Church and the State in Italy. These relations certainly remain essential, though being projected now on a broader horizon; and from them I intend, therefore, to begin again, because of the solid and clear frame of reference that they represent.

The choice of the Constituent Assembly, in March of 1947, to inscribe them in our fundamental Charter, anchoring them to the Lateran Pacts was an enlightened choice. The fact that those Pacts were underwritten – at the end of a long process of rapprochement – in 1929, when in Italy the Fascist regime prevailed, did not veil the understanding, in the days of the Constituent Assembly, of the non-contingent value of the “Conciliation” thus obtained: and did not impede work subsequently on the revision of the Concordat, placing it fully in the new democratic-constitutional context of Republican Italy.

It was, in the course of this path, possible to recognize one another in respect of the secularism and sovereignty of the State, and at the same time the liberty and sovereignty of the Church, and to converge increasingly in the work for “the promotion of man and of the good of the country.”  Reinforced decisively was the national unity that is for Italy condition of all security and progress, and to which Benedict XVI wished to pay tribute with his memorable message of March 17, 2011, for our one hundred fiftieth anniversary, putting in evidence “the two supreme principles called to preside over the relations between the Church and the political community  -- that of the distinction of realms and that of collaboration.” Principles – I observe – which must always be guarded and which we see today expressed, Your Holiness, with clarity and profoundness in your thoughts and in your words. This is the meaning, therefore, of the homage that is rendered to you here today by the most significant representations of the Italian State, of institutions and of State bodies. To these we wish to add a group of representative personalities of civil society, of the world of culture, secular and Catholic, as well as of the world of solidarity towards the poor, the suffering, the “least” so dear to you.

And we thought of these new presences on the occasion of your visit to gather the inspiration that moves you, the intent not to leave your commitment shut in, your pastoral address itself in the horizon of a relation between institutions. You have transmitted in the most direct way to each one of us motives for reflection and of great suggestions for our individual and collective action. And you have done so in these months talking to us about yourself, telling us – with amazing generosity and genuineness – much about your formation, your evolution, your vision.

And to all – believers and non-believers –  has reached through simple and strong words, your concept of the Church and of faith.

We have been struck by the absence of all dogmatism, the distancing from “positions not touched by a margin of uncertainty,” the call to “leave space for doubt” proper of the “great leaders of the People of God.”

In your words, we have felt vibrate the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, as “rereading of the Gospel in the light of contemporary culture.” And thus we see profiled a new perspective in that “dialogue with everyone, also the most estranged and adversaries,” that you, Your Holiness, have requested and that constitutes in fact the broadest horizon – beyond the context of relations between Church and State – to which today we must necessarily tend.

I say necessarily in face of the unheard of challenges of today, to be overcome – looking at the future – through the widest mobilization of consciences and energies – first of all moral – of a people such as ours, and of all people.

I speak of challenges that involve the whole international community: first of all, that of re-establishing and preserving peace in regions tormented by lacerating conflicts, such as the Middle East and the Mediterranean here in particular Italy and united  Europe are debtors of effective answers and commitments.

However, the challenges to be faced in the world today are also of an “anthropological” nature. “Over time man changes his way of perceiving himself,” “man is seeking to find himself,” you have said, and have put us on guard against the thought that “loses the human from view.”

Your strong consideration for the person, even your wanting “to look at individual persons, one at a time,” when you speak to great masses gathered to hear you, is a distinctive character of your pastoral mission. To be able to communicate with the simple, to be able to transmit to each one and to all  the values of the Christian message – first of all that of love for others – emits new potentialities to combat the flood of egoism, of social insensibility, of the most prejudiced worship of one’s own personal benefit.

To react everywhere to similar phenomenons of regression and to have inalienable ideal and moral parameters valued, the role of Europe, I would like to stress, remains essential, inasmuch as it was founded – historically and in its common institutions today – on those values of respect of human dignity, of tolerance, justice, solidarity, that bear the sign of the Christian heritage.

It is, in effect, by soliciting a new spirit of solidaristic and responsible association to which we must be dedicated – guided by hope – to overcome the gravest evils that afflict the world today. Beginning with the evils provoked or exasperated by the crisis of these years be it in the “fringes” of different continents, in places that still remain on the margins of a modern economic development and social well-being, be it in countries of afflicted Europe: extreme evils, like – you have said – on one hand the desperate condition of young people deprived of work, who come as “crushed by the present,” and on the other the loneliness in which the elderly are left.

Arising as never before are common responsibilities. Responsibilities that the Church assumes “expressing and spreading her values,” freeing herself from every residue of “temporality,” and displaying the initiative of institutions that respond to her in the solidaristic and educational terrain that is proper to them. Responsibilities that in their turn in the very different fields in which they are called to operate, are assumed by political, secular and independent institutions by definition.

Politics has seen, however, exposed as it is not only on founded criticisms but to destructive attacks  – the dramatic necessity (we see it well in Italy) to recover participation, consensus and respect, freeing ourselves of the plague of corruption and of the meanest particularisms. We can succeed only by renewing – together with its pluralistic articulation – its own ideal, social and cultural bases. And I believe that in this sense politics can, Your Holiness, bring a new stimulus from your message and your words. A message that, as you yourself have said, “is addressed not only to Catholics but to all men of good will,” and which makes one think, therefore, of a dialogue without precedence in its amplitude and profundness between believers and non-believers, of a kind of symbolic, immense “Courtyard of the Gentiles.”

You see, Holiness, we who in Italy exercise functions of representation and leadership in the political institutions, are immersed in a toilsome daily routine, dominated by the tumultuous pressure and gravity of the problems of the country and sometimes of exasperations on the part of a climate often poisoned and destabilizing. How far we are in our country from that “culture of encounter” that you love to evoke, from your invocation “Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!”!

Well, in fact for us who now render homage to you here, as for all the expressions of the ruling class of Italy, it is time to raise one’s gaze higher, to regain far-sightedness and to take ourselves to the level of decisive challenges that from today already project themselves on tomorrow. Bringing to birth also from this extraordinary and so lofty occasion of encounter, a commitment comparable to that of which you, Your Holiness Francis, are giving us an example.

[Translation by ZENIT]