Papal Address to Civil Leaders of Milan, Lombardy

«Freedom is Not a Privilege for Some, but a Right for All»

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MILAN, June 4, 2012 ( Here is a translation of the address that Benedict XVI gave to civil and military authorities, along with representatives in the field of education and culture from Milan and Lombardy during the VII World Meeting of Families.

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Illustrious Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am sincerely grateful for this meeting, which reveals your sentiments of respect and esteem for the Apostolic See and, at the same time, permits me, as Pastor of the Universal Church, to express my appreciation for the zealous and valuable work that you do not cease to promote for an always improving civil, social and economic wellbeing among the hardworking people of Milan and Lombardy. I thank Cardinal Angelo Scola for the introduction. In offering my deferential and cordial greeting to you, my thoughts turn to your illustrious predecessor, St. Ambrose, governor – “consularis” – of the provinces of Liguria and Aemilia, with his headquarters in imperial Milan, a thoroughfare and point of reference for Europe. Before being elected bishop of Mediolanum – which was a complete surprise and against his will since he felt unprepared – he was in charge of public order and administered justice. I think that the words with which the prefect Probus invited him to Milan as “consularis” are significant; he said to him, in fact: “Go and rule not as a judge but as a bishop.” And he was indeed a balanced and enlightened governor who knew how to deal with issues with wisdom, good sense and authority, knowing how to overcome conflicts and break divisions. I would like to reflect briefly on some principles that he followed and that are still precious for those who are called to concern themselves with public affairs.

In his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, St. Ambrose recalls that “the institution of power comes so much from God that he who exercises it is himself a ‘minister of God’” (Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, IV, 29). Some words might seem strange to men of the 3rd millennium, and yet they clearly indicate a central truth about the human person, which is the solid foundation of social coexistence: no power of man can be considered divine, so no man is the owner of another man. Ambrose courageously reminds the emperor of this, writing: “You too, O august emperor, are a man” (Epistula 51,11).

There is another element that we can find in St. Ambrose’s teaching. Justice is the first quality of those who rule. Justice is the public virtue par excellence, because it has to do with the good of the whole community. And yet it is not enough. Ambrose sets another quality alongside it: love of freedom, which he considers a criterion for discerning between good and bad rulers, since, as we read in another of this letters: “the good love freedom, the wicked love servitude” (Epistula 40, 2). Freedom is not a privilege for some, but a right for all, a precious right that civil authority must guarantee. Nevertheless, freedom does not mean the arbitrary choice of the individual, but implies rather responsibility of everyone. Here we find one of the principal elements of the secularity of the state: assure freedom so that everyone can propose their vision of common life, always, however, with respect for the other and in the context of laws that aim at the good of all.

On the other hand, the extent to which the conception of a confessional state is left behind, it appears clear that, in any case, the laws must find their justification and force in natural law, which is order adequate to the dignity of the human person, overcoming a merely positivist conception from which it is not possible to derive precepts that are, in some way, of an ethical character (cf. Speech to the German Parliament, Sept. 22, 2011). The state is at the service of and protects the person and his “well-being” in its multiple aspects, beginning with the right to life, the deliberate suppression of which is never permissible. Everyone can see then how legislation and the work of state institutions must be especially in the service of the family, founded on marriage and open to life, and how there must be a recognition of the primary right of the parents to freely educate and form their children, according to the educational plan that they judge valid and pertinent. The family is not treated justly if the state does not support the freedom of education for the common good of society as a whole.

In this existence of the state for the citizens, a constructive collaboration with the Church appears something precious, not, of course, with a confusion of the different and distinct purposes and roles of civil power and the Church herself, but for the contribution that the latter has made and continues to make to society with her experience, doctrine, tradition, institutions and works that are placed at the service of the people. Just think of the many saints of charity, education, culture, of the care of the sick and marginalized, who are served and loved as the Lord is served and loved. This tradition continues to bear fruit: the industriousness of Lombard Christians in such areas is quite alive and perhaps more significant than in the past. Christian communities propose these activities not so much as a supplement but out of the gratuitous superabundance of the charity of Christ and the total experience of their faith. The time of crisis that we are going through needs, besides courageous technical-political decisions, gratuity, as I have said before: “The ‘city of man’ is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion” (Caritas in veritate, 6).

We can take a last precious suggestion from St. Ambrose, whose solemn and admonishing figure is woven into the standard for the City of Milan. St. Ambrose asks that those who wish to collaborate in governing and public administration make themselves loved. In De Officis he states: “He who loves can never cause fear. Nothing is more useful than to make oneself loved” (II, 29). On the other hand, the reason for your industrious and hardworking presence in the various spheres of public life can only be the desire to dedicate yourselves to the good of the citizens, and so a clear expression and an evident sign of love. In this way politics is profoundly ennobled, becoming an elevated form of charity.

Illustrious ladies and gentlemen! Accept these simple reflections of mine as a sign of my profound esteem for the institutions that you serve and for your important work. May you be assisted in this work of yours by the continued protection of heaven of which the apostolic benediction that I impart to you and your collaborators and families is meant as a pledge and hope. Thank you!

[Translation by Joseph Trabbic]
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