Nicolas Sarkozy said this today in an address at the ceremony to welcome Benedict XVI to his country. The Pope is in Paris tonight, and will travel Saturday to Lourdes to participate in the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there.
The Pope was greeted by the pealing of church bells when he arrived to Paris. A smiling President Sarkozy received him at the airport, introducing the Pope to members of his family; the two also exchanged gifts.
This was followed by the official welcoming ceremony in the Elysee's great hall of celebrations to members of the government, parliamentarians and bishops.
"Very Holy Father, you honor France," said Sarkozy. "For the millions of French Catholics it is an exceptional visit, intense joy, immense hope"
Religion, began Sarkozy, "and in particular the Christian religion, with which we share a long history, are living patrimonies of reflection and thought, not only about God, but also about man, society, and that which is a central concern for us today, nature."
"It would be crazy to deprive ourselves of religion; [it would be] a failing against culture and against thought. For this reason, I am calling for a positive secularity," he said. "A positive secularity offers our consciences the possibility to interchange -- above and beyond our beliefs and rites -- the sense we want to give to our lives."
The president explained the areas in which this vision of secularism could take root: "France has begun, together with Europe, a reflection on the morality of capitalism.
"Economic growth doesn't make sense if it becomes it's own objective. Only the betterment of the situation of the greatest number of persons and their personal fulfillment constitute legitimate objectives.
"This teaching, that forms part of the heart of the social doctrine of the Church, is in perfect consonance with the challenges of the globalized contemporary economy. Our duty is to listen to it."
"Positive secularism, open secularism, is an invitation to dialogue, to tolerance and respect," Sarkozy acknowledged. "It is an opportunity, an encouragement, a supplementary dimension to the political debate. It is an encouragement to religion, as well as to all currents of thought."