VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2010 ( Benedict XVI is underlining the Church's right to speak out and express its message publicly, even while respecting those who have different opinions.

The Pope stated this Saturday in an audience with the new Belgian ambassador to the Holy See, Charles Ghislain.

The Pontiff underlined the "fragility of human existence" and the necessity of protecting it through "authentic social cohesion that does not weaken the legitimate diversity of opinions."

"For quite some time the Church has inscribed itself fully in the history and the social fabric of your nation," he said, and "it desires to continue to be a factor in the harmonious coexistence among all."

The Church is happy to "place itself at the service of all the components of Belgian society" through "its numerous educational institutions, its work of a social character and the voluntary efforts of so many faithful," the Holy Father affirmed.

Nevertheless, he continued, the Church finds it necessary "to stress that it has, as an institution, the right to express itself publicly."

"It shares this right with all individuals and institutions, with the scope of speaking its mind on questions of common interest," Benedict XVI said.

He added, "The Church respects the right of everyone to think differently from it; it would like that its right to expression also be respected."

"The Church is a depository of a teaching, of a religious message that it received from Jesus Christ," Benedict XVI stated, which "can be summarized with the following words from Sacred Scripture: 'God is love' (1 John 4:16)."

This teaching "throws its light upon the meaning of the personal, familial and social life of man," he noted.

"The Church, having the common good as its objective, asks nothing other than the freedom to be able to propose this message, without imposing it on anyone, in respect for freedom of conscience," the Pope stated.

Apostle to the Lepers

He recalled that "it was in nourishing himself with this ecclesial teaching in a radical way that Joseph de Veuster became he who is now called 'St. Damien.'"

Speaking about the "Apostle to the Lepers," the Pontiff stated that "the exceptional destiny of this man shows to what point the Gospel awakens an ethics that is a friend to the person, above all if he is in need or marginalized."

He continued: "The canonization of this priest and the universal fame that he enjoys is a legitimate reason for pride among the Belgian people.

"This attractive personage is not the fruit of a solitary journey. It is well to recall the religious roots that nourished his education and formation as well as the teachers who awakened that admirable generosity in him."

"It led him to share the marginalized life of the lepers," the Holy Father affirmed, "to the point of exposing himself to the illness from which they suffer."

Benedict XVI affirmed, "In the light of similar witnesses everyone can understand that the Gospel is a force that there is no reason to fear."

He stated, "I am convinced that despite the sociological developments, the Christian 'humus' is still rich in your land."

"It can generously nourish the commitment of a growing number of volunteers," the Pope proposed, "who, inspired by evangelical principles of fraternity and solidarity, accompany persons who experience difficulties and who, for this reason, need to be helped."

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