Papal Address to Italian Political Leaders

«Unity and Plurality Are … Values That Mutually Enrich Each Other»

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 14, 2011 ( Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered Saturday when he received in audience members of the National Association of Italian Local Authorities.

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Illustrious and Esteemed Mayors!

I address my cordial greeting to all of you and I am grateful for your presence, which is the expression of a tradition that has been consolidated by time, as is witnessed to by the similar audiences granted by Venerable John Paul II and the preceding pontiffs, and as was recalled by your association’s president, whom I thank for the fine words full of realism, but also of poetry and beauty, with which he opened our meeting. This fact attests in particular to the link that exists between the Pope, Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy, and the Italian nation, which is characterized by the variegated multiplicity of its cities and towns.

The first idea that comes to mind in meeting the representatives of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani [National Association of Italian Municipalities], is that of the origin of municipalities, which are expressions of a community that meets, engages in dialogue, celebrates and plans together, a community of believers that celebrates the Sunday liturgy, and then gathers in the piazzas of the ancient cities or, in the countryside, in front of the little churches of the village. Carducci, the Italian poet, also recalls this in an ode to the people of Carnia:

«[I dream] of the ancient civic virtues
Encamped in the cool shadows
I contemplate them during the grazing season
After Mass on the feast day.»

Today too there is always alive the need to dwell in fraternal community, where for example, the parish and the city are both artificers of a just and solidary «modus vivendi» even in the midst of all the tensions and suffering of modern life. The multiplicity of subjects and situations is not in contradiction with the unity of the nation, which is recalled by the 150th anniversary is being celebrated. Unity and plurality are, at different levels, including the ecclesiological, two values that mutually enrich each other if they are maintained in just and reciprocal balance.

Subsidiarity and solidarity — which are typical of the social teaching of the Church — are two principles that permit this harmonious co-presence of unity and plurality. This social doctrine has for its object truths that pertain not only to the patrimony of the believer but that are rationally accessible to every person. I also reflected on these principles in the encyclical «Caritas in Veritate,» where the principle of subsidiarity is considered «an expression of inalienable human freedom.» In fact, [s]ubsidiarity is first and foremost a form of assistance to the human person via the autonomy of intermediate bodies.

Such assistance is offered when individuals or groups are unable to accomplish something on their own, and it is always designed to achieve their emancipation, because it fosters freedom and participation through assumption of responsibility» (No. 57). As such, «the principle of subsidiarity is particularly well-suited to managing globalization and directing it towards authentic human development» (ibid.). «The principle of subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa, since the former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need» (No. 58).

These principles must also be applied at the local level, and in a double sense: in the relationship with public agencies of the state, region and province, and in the relationship that the municipal authorities have with social organizations and the intermediary entities present in the area. The latter carry out activities of relevant social utility being supporters of humanization and socialization, especially dedicated to marginalized and needy groups. Among these are also numerous ecclesial organizations such as parishes, oratories, religious houses, Catholic institutes of education and assistance. It is my wish that these precious activities are always properly appreciated and supported even in financial terms.

In this regard, I would like to stress again that the Church does not ask for privileges, but to be able to freely carry out her mission, as an effective respect for religious freedom requires. This permits the collaboration that exists in Italy between the civil community and the ecclesial community. Unfortunately, in other countries Christian minorities are often the victims of discrimination and persecution. I would like to express my appreciation for the motion of Feb. 3, 2011, unanimously approved by your national council, which promoted the sensitizing of the member municipalities to such phenomena and restated at the same time «the undeniable character of religious freedom as a foundation of free and peaceful coexistence among peoples.»

Furthermore, I would like to underscore the importance of the theme of «citizenship,» which you have placed at the center of your work. On this theme the Church in Italy is developing a rich reflection — above all beginning with the ecclesial conference at Verona — which understands that citizenship constitutes one of the fundamental ambits of life and coexistence among persons. The next national eucharistic congress in Ancona will also dedicate a day to such a relevant topic, a session to which the Italian mayors have been appropriately invited, as we have been told.

Today citizenship is indeed situated in the context of globalization, which is characterized by, among other things, great migratory movement. In the face of this reality, as I said a moment ago, there is a need to join together solidarity and respect for the laws so that social coexistence is not imperiled and the principles of law and the cultural and religious tradition from which the Italian nation originates are taken into account. This demand is felt in a special way by you who, as local administrators, are closer to the life of the people. Of you there is required a special dedication, in the public service that you render to the citizens, to being promoters of collaboration, of solidarity and humanity. History has left us the examples of mayors who with their prestige and their commitment marked the life of their communities: you rightly recalled the figure of Giorgio La Pira, exemplary Christian and esteemed public administrator. May this tradition continue to bear fruit for the good of the country and of its citizens! For this I assure you of my prayers and I exhort you, illustrious friends, to confide in the Lord, because — as the Psalm says — «if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vane does the sentinel keep watch» (121:1).

Invoking the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary — venerated by the Italian people in their many sanctuaries, places of spirituality, of art and of culture — and of the holy patrons Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, I bless all of you, your coworkers and the whole Italian nation.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

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