VATICAN CITY, NOV. 12, 2004 ( The Holy Father received the president of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio on Friday and encouraged collaboration between the Vatican and his government in the future.

In his brief message delivered in Portuguese, the Holy Father said that the world is becoming aware "of the grave crisis of values in modern society, ever more insecure in the face of fundamental ethical decisions for the future path of humanity."

"The formation of a critical conscience in order to discern the meaning of life and of history is the greatest cultural challenge of our time," the Pope continued, after his private, 10-minute meeting with Sampaio.

This is "something the Church in Portugal wants to confront through its collaboration, as the new concordat that will go into effect in a few days demonstrates," the Pope said.

A concordat is an agreement signed between the Holy See and the secular government of a state which regulates relations between the two in a number of areas such as education, the teaching of religion, and assigning Catholic chaplains to prisoners and the military.

At the beginning of his address, the Pope recalled his visit to Fatima in the year 2000, to beatify "the two great Portuguese little ones: Francisco and Jacinta Marto."

"The special light that shone in their lives wants to illuminate the world. The world continues to look to Portugal with hope," the Pope said.

In subsequent statements to the press, President Sampaio said that his audience with the Holy Father was "very emotional and moving." The Pope "has clearly a great appreciation, a great love for Portugal, and he asks about Fatima, Portugal, and the pilgrims."

Cardinal Jose Policarpo, president of the Portuguese episcopal conference, said in statements published by the Portuguese news service Ecclesia, that the president's visit cannot be considered as "mere diplomatic routine."

Lisbon's patriarch explained that it was a particularly significant context because of the promulgation of the new concordat.

"It is a visit that incarnates a centuries-old relationship of affection and much warmth between the Pope and the Portuguese state," he concluded.

Of Portugal's 10 million inhabitants, 93.30% are Catholic.