Religion Plays Key Role in Public Square, Says Pope

Greets Italy’s New Ambassador to Holy See

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ROME, DEC. 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The religious dimension fosters genuine progress, and the state would do well to protect its role in the public sphere, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today upon receiving in audience Francesco Maria Greco, the new ambassador of Italy to the Holy See, who was presenting his letters of credence.

In his address to the diplomat, the Holy Father said he follows «the joyful and sad vicissitudes» of the country, and prays that the Lord will preserve in it «the valuable treasure of the Christian faith,» as well as «the gifts of concord and prosperity.»

Benedict XVI pointed out that the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy will offer an occasion for reflection, and not just of a «commemorative character.» He offered as one topic of reflection the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state.

The Pope reaffirmed that the Church in Italy is not seeking «power, privileges or positions of economic and social advantage,» but only that it be assured «the full exercise of religious liberty,» and that the «legitimate role» be recognized of «religions and religious communities in the public sphere.»

Moreover, Italian history and culture are «so profoundly marked by the Catholic Church,» he observed, that when an attempt was made in the past to deny or marginalize them, «dangerous imbalances were caused and painful fractures in the social life of the country.»

In this connection, the Pope referred to the «attempt to eliminate from public places the display of religious symbols,» in reference to the case in which a native of Finland appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to require that crucifixes be removed from classrooms in Italy.

The Pontiff expressed his appreciation to the Italian government for having acted «in conformity with a correct view of laicism and in the light of its history, culture and tradition, finding in this also the positive support of other European countries.»

Italy appealed the 2009 decision on Lautsi v. Italy, which originally ruled in favor of an Italian citizen of Finnish origin who complained in 2002 that the state school where her two children studied violated their freedom by displaying crucifixes. Ten states — Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Romania, the Russian Federation, and San Marino — officially participated in the appeal, and four more — Ukraine, Moldova, Albania, and Serbia — gave their official support.

Finally, the Pope recalled that at present there still are «open violations of religious liberty,» and added that he hoped that «awareness of this problem will grow everywhere,» and «that efforts will be intensified to see realized, everywhere and for everyone, full respect of religious liberty.»

Moral dimension

Earlier, in his address of greeting to the Pope, Greco said that «respect for the secular aspect of the state certainly does not make us deaf to Your Holiness’ invocation that every economic and political decision not preclude a moral dimension.»

«Even the most intransigent secular spirits cannot, in fact, deny the public role that faith and religion should have in governance, which allows believers as well as non-believer, to invoke coherence between ethics and politics,» he continued.

Because of this, the ambassador added, «we are convinced that the Church can also contribute to give back a new energy to the national community, keeping high the sense of unity of the nation which must be echoed by a solidaristic federalism and reinforced social cohesion.»

This solidarity «must not be understood as divesting oneself of responsibility or welfarism, but as a propelling force that drives man to commit himself in justice and peace,» specified Greco.

The ambassador then mentioned the collaborative relations that link both states, as well as their consonance in interventions both in the national realm as well as the international scene. In particular, he stressed the common commitment in «the struggle against religious discrimination and the intercultural and interreligious dialogue,» which has become for Italy «the new frontier of its foreign policy.»

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