VATICAN CITY, MARCH 16, 2011 ( On the day that Italians are celebrating their national unity, Benedict XVI is reminding the nation of their Catholic roots.

The Pope reflected on the Catholic identity of the people of Italy in a letter addressed to the president of nation, Giorgio Napolitano, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Italy's political unity, which is celebrated Thursday.

In commenting on "Il Risorgimento" (The Resurgence), which brought various independent states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of Italy, the Holy Father noted that "Christianity contributed in a fundamental way to the construction of the Italian identity."

He said that the character of the nation was forged "through the work of the Church, of her educational and charitable institutions, fixing models of behavior, institutional configurations, social relationships, but also through a very rich artistic activity in literature, painting, sculpture, architecture and music."

The Pontiff named some of the great Christian artists who "have made a fundamental contribution to the formation of the Italian identity," including Dante, Giotto, Petrarch, Michelangelo, Raphael, Pierluigi of Palestrina, Caravaggio, Scarlatti, Bernini and Borromini.

"Also the experiences of holiness," he continued, "with which numerous individuals have studded the history of Italy, contributed strongly to construct such identity, not only under the specific profile of a peculiar realization of the evangelical message, which has marked in time the religious experience and spirituality of Italians (one thinks of the great and manifold expressions of popular piety), but also under the cultural and even political profile."

Benedict XVI noted that St. Francis of Assisi helped to forge the national language, and that St. Catherine of Siena, "offered a formidable stimulus to the elaboration of Italian political and juridical thought."

The Pope affirmed that "the contribution of the Church and of believers to the process of formation and consolidation of the national identity continues in the modern and contemporary ages."

Natural outlet

"The unity of Italy," Benedict XVI continued, "realized in the second half of the 1800s, was able to take place, not as an artificial political construction of different identities, but as a natural political outlet of a strong national identity, rooted and subsisting for some time."

He explained that "Il Risorgimento" built itself on the "pre-existing national identity, to whose molding Christianity and the Church made a fundamental contribution."

"Without denying the role of traditions of different thought, some marked by jurisdictional or secular veins, one cannot omit the contribution of thought -- and at times of action -- of Catholics to the formation of the unitary state," the Pontiff affirmed.

The Holy Father named several great Catholic politicians, such as "Antonio Rosmini, whose influence was displayed in time, to the point of informing significant points of the present Italian Constitution."

He also named some figures in literature, which "contributed so much to 'make the Italians,' namely to give them the sense of belonging to the new political community that the process of the Risorgimento was molding."

The Pope mentioned the many Italian saints, and in particular St. John Bosco, who was "driven by his pedagogical concern to compose manuals of homeland history, which molded membership in the institute founded by him on a paradigm consistent with a healthy liberal conception: 'A citizen before the state, and a religious before the Church.'"

"The national identity of Italians, so strongly rooted in the Catholic traditions, constituted in truth the most solid foundation of the acquired political unity," the Pontiff affirmed.

See of Peter

Benedict XVI noted that apart from its Christian identity, the nation has the "the burden, but at the same time the privilege, given by the peculiar situation by which there is in Italy, in Rome, the See of the Successor of Peter and, hence, the center of Catholicism."

"And the national community has always responded to this awareness expressing affectionate closeness, solidarity, and help to the Apostolic See for its liberty and to support the realization of the conditions favorable to the exercise of the spiritual ministry in the world of the Successor of Peter, who is bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy," he added.

"The turbulence having passed of the 'Roman Question,'" the Pope stated, "having arrived at the hoped-for Conciliation, the Italian State also offered and continues to offer a valuable collaboration, which the Holy See enjoys and of which it is consciously grateful."

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