Francis' Address to Italian President

«In todays world religious liberty is more often affirmed than fulfilled»

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Here is a translation of the address Francis gave to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano when the two met last Saturday.

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Mister President of the Republic,

I wish to thank you heartily for your welcome visit, which gives me the opportunity to express my most cordial greeting to you and to all the Italian people, whose representatives have elected you recently for a new mandate to the highest office of the State. I extend, then, my greeting and my gratitude to all the members of the different delegations that accompany you.

Your visit, Mister President, is inserted in a now long history of relations, and it confirms once again, even after troubled and painful events, the normality and excellence of relations between Italy and the Holy See. These relations were developed especially after the Conciliation and the insertion of Lateran Pacts in the Italian Constitution, and then in a new point of view, after the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council and the Agreement for the Revision of the Concordat.

Confirmed many times with full reason by both parties is that the dialogue between Italy and the Holy See has as its principal end the good of the Italian people and, as the ideal background, its unique historical role in Europe and in the world. In this connection, Italy can truly be an example in the community of peoples, as has been recognized many times also by very diverse personalities and, in recent times, it seemed evident from the intensity of the relationship of esteem and friendship between you, Mister President, and His Holiness Benedict XVI.

In Italy the collaboration between State and Church, is always geared to the interest of the people and of society; it is realized in the daily relations between civil entities and those of the Catholic community, represented by Bishops and their organizations, and in an altogether particular way by the Bishop of Rome. So, also this first visit of the President to the Pope – after your participation at the Mass for the beginning of the Petrine ministry – can be expressed effectively with the image of two hills, the Quirinale and the Vatican, which regard one another with esteem and sympathy.

Recalled in this year 2013 is the 17th centenary of the Edict of Milan, seen by many sides as symbol of the first affirmation of the principle of religious liberty. A century ago the celebration of this event represented a stage in the historic process that fostered the awareness and contribution of Catholics in the building of the Italian society, a contribution that continues to be important for the Nation’s journey.

In today’s world religious liberty is more often affirmed than fulfilled. In fact, it is constrained to suffer threats of various sorts and not rarely is violated. The grave outrages inflicted on such a primary right are a source of serious concern and must elicit the unanimous reaction of the countries of the world in reaffirming, against any attack, the intangible dignity of the human person. It is a duty of everyone to defend religious liberty and to have it promoted by all. Found, moreover, in the shared protection of such a moral good is, also, a guarantee of growth and of development of the whole community.

The historical moment we are living is marked also in Italy, as in many other countries, by a profound and persistent global crisis, which accentuates the economic and social problems, burdening especially the weakest part of society. Phenomena that seem worrying above all are the weakening of the family and of social bonds, the demographic decline, the prevalence of logics that privilege profit over work, the insufficient attention to the younger generations and to their formation, in view also of a serene and secure future.

In this context, which is certainly not easy, it is essential to guarantee and to develop the general establishment of democratic institutions, to which in the past decades Italian Catholics have contributed in a decisive, loyal and creative way. In a moment of crisis such as the present it is urgent, therefore, that a new consideration of the political commitment be able to grow, above all among young people, and that believers and non-believers collaborate together in promoting a society where injustices can be overcome and every person is accepted and is able to contribute to the common good in keeping with his/her dignity, putting to good use their own capacities. The distance between the letter and the spirit of the regulations and of the democratic institutions must always be recognized and it calls for the commitment of all the subjects involved to fill it always again. We, Catholics, also have the duty to be ever more committed to a serious journey of spiritual conversion so that every day we come closer to the Gospel, which pushes us to a concrete and effective service to persons and to society.

True also in the civil realm is what the faith assures us: we must never lose hope. How many examples, in this connection, have we been given by our parents and grandparents, facing in their times harsh trials with great courage and a spirit of sacrifice! Benedict XVI stated many times that the present crisis must be an occasion for a fraternal renewal of human relations. The Italian people also — drawing with trust and creativity from their very rich Christian tradition and from the examples of their Patron Saints Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, as well as from numerous religious and lay figures, and from the silent testimony of so many women and men –, can and must overcome every division and grow in justice and peace, thus continuing to carry out its peculiar role in the European context and in the family of peoples, and work to create a culture of meeting.

Mister President, I renew my gratitude to you for this very welcome meeting. And I am happy to take this occasion to express my appreciation to you and to all Italians for the warm affection with which they received me after my election: they made me feel at home again! Thank you. May Italy always be a welcoming home for all! I assure you of my prayer for this, while blessing you and your loved ones from my heart, and all those at the service of public affairs and the whole Italian people. Thank you.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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