ROME, JUNE 24, 2005 ( Benedict XVI illustrated the principles on which a "healthy secularity" is based in church-state relations in a visit to the Italian President Carlo Ciampi.

The Pope made his first visit to a head of state today at the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of Italy's president.

In his message, heard by top Italian officials, the Bishop of Rome said: "The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men."

"A healthy secularity of the state is legitimate in virtue of which temporal realities are governed according to their own norms, without excluding, however, those ethical references that find their ultimate basis in religion," he said.

This principle, Benedict XVI pointed out, is the one that animated the Lateran Pacts, signed by Italy and the Holy See on Feb. 11, 1929, which created Vatican City State.

Cordial spirit

"The autonomy of the temporal sphere does not exclude a profound harmony with the higher and complex exigencies that derive from an integral vision of man and his eternal destiny," he stated.

The Pope committed himself to promote "a cordial spirit of collaboration and understanding" with the authorities of the country, "without seeking power or requesting privileges or positions of social or economic advantage."

"The proclamation of the Gospel, which in communion with the Italian bishops I am called to take to Rome and to Italy, not only is at the service of the growth of the Italian people in the faith and Christian life, but also of their progress on the paths of concord and peace," said the Holy Father.

He added: "Christ is the savior of the whole man, of his spirit and his body, of his spiritual and eternal destiny and of his temporal and earthly life. When his message is received, the civil community also becomes more responsible, more attentive to the exigencies of the common good and more solidaristic with poor, abandoned and marginalized people."

At service of humanity

Proof of this is Italian history, said the Holy Father, referring to "the innumerable works of charity to which the Church has given life, with great sacrifices, for the relief of all sorts of suffering."

The Pope left the Vatican at 10:30 a.m. in an open car. Just outside Vatican City, in Pius XII Square, he was greeted by a delegation of the Italian government led by Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

The Holy Father's motorcade stopped a second time in Piazza Venezia, near Rome's City Hall, where he was greeted by Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni.

Upon his 11 a.m. arrival at the Quirinale Palace, President Ciampi welcomed Benedict XVI.

Inside the palace they were joined by former Italian Presidents Francesco Cossiga and Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Among those present for the Vatican was the secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

Today's visit was the eighth time a Pope has visited the Quirinale Palace. The first was Pius XII in 1939.

Pope John Paul II visited three times: 1984, 1986 and 1998. He was tentatively scheduled to visit President Ciampi on April 29, but he died on April 2.