Pope Proposes Co-operative Relation between Church and State

Papal Visit to Italian Parliament

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2002 (ZENIT.org).- During his visit to the Italian Parliament, John Paul II urged for church-state relations characterized by «co-operation,» «independence,» and «freedom.»

In his speech, broken by the applause of those present, the Holy Father touched upon a number of major current issues in Italy and the world: the demographic crisis, challenges to the educational system, the role of the media, clemency for prisoners, solidarity with the marginalized, and the terrorist emergency.

Interest for the event captured the public throughout Italy, and the visit was transmitted live by several television channels. The intense interest comes from the turbulent history between Church and state in Italy, stemming from the nation’s birth in 1870.

Over 800 foreign and Italian journalists followed the event from three press rooms. Large screens were installed outside the two parliamentary chambers, so that the public could follow the papal address.

After recalling that historical relations between Italy and the Vatican have experienced «vicissitudes» and «contradictions,» John Paul II said that this history has served to mature both the Church and the country, yielding «highly positive results.»

In this connection, the Pontiff advocated «closeness» and «cooperation, with respect for mutual independence and freedom.»

The Pope invited Italy not to lose its humanistic and Christian heritage, which explains the extraordinary contribution of that country to the world’s artistic patrimony, and appealed for the preservation of the very foundation of the law that arose in Rome: respect for the dignity of the human person.

John Paul II pointed out three concrete challenges that Italy faces at present.

First, the Pope mentioned the «crisis of birthrate» — Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world — with consequent «aging of the population,» and called for «political initiatives which, by upholding recognition of the rights of the family as the natural society founded upon marriage, according to the expression of the Constitution of the Italian Republic (see Art. 29), can make the task of having children and bringing them up less burdensome both socially and economically,» he stressed.

Second, the Holy Father said that the country’s future depends on education; in this light, he emphasized the need to focus on the quality of the educational system, «in close cooperation with families and all sectors of society,» and called on politicians to intervene so that the media would become an instrument of education.

Third, the Pope spoke on behalf of the needy in the country: prisoners «in conditions of appalling overcrowding» who need a «reduction of their punishment;» the unemployed, a good number of whom are young people; and immigrants. «Solidarity» was one of the most repeated words in the papal address.

Lastly, John Paul II referred to Italy’s international role, and appealed for its cooperation, so that in the present process of European unification there will be no loss of «that extraordinary religious, cultural, and civil patrimony which has given Europe its greatness down the centuries.»

The Pope also referred to globalization, hampered by wars and the terrible threat of terrorism supposedly motivated by religion.

«In this great enterprise, on whose outcome depends the future of the human race in coming decades, Christianity has its own particular genius and responsibility: by proclaiming the God of love, it presents itself as the religion of mutual respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation,» he said.

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