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Friday, December 17, 2010


VATICAN CITY, 17 DEC 2010 (VIS) - Today in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Francesco Maria Greco, the new Italian ambassador to the Holy See.

  In his address to the diplomat, the Pope spoke of the preparations underway for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Italian unity, affirming that "one of the most important aspects of the long and sometimes tiring and difficult journey which led to the modern Italian State, was the search for a just distinction between the civil and religious communities, and for correct forms of collaboration between them. This need is more deeply felt in a county like Italy, whose history and culture are so profoundly marked by the Catholic Church, and the capital of which is the episcopal see of the visible head of that community, which has spread throughout the world.

  "These characteristics", he added, "which have been part of Italy's historical and cultural heritage for centuries, cannot be denied, forgotten or marginalised. The experience of these 150 years teaches us that when attempts have been made to do so, they have led to dangerous imbalances and painful fractures in the social life of the country".

  In this context the Pope underlined the importance of the Lateran Pacts and of the Villa Madama Agreement, which "set the co-ordinates for well-balanced relations, which are of benefit to the Apostolic See just as they are to the State and Church in Italy".

  "These international agreements are not the expression of a desire for power, privilege or economic and social advantage on the part of the Church or the Holy See, nor do they aim to encroach into the area of the mission which the Divine Founder entrusted to His community on earth. Quite the contrary, the basis of these agreements lies in the State's just desire to ensure that individuals and the Church can fully exercise their religious freedom. This right has dimensions that are not only personal. ... Religious freedom is, in fact, a right not just of individuals, but of families, religious groups and the Church, and the State is called to safeguard not only believers' right to freedom of conscience and religion, but also the legitimate role of religion and of religious communities in the public sphere".

  Benedict XVI continued: "The correct exercise and reciprocal recognition of this right enables society to make use of the moral resources and generous service of believers. Thus, we cannot hope to achieve authentic social progress by the marginalisation or even the explicit rejection of the religious factor, something which is happening in various ways in our time. One of these, for example, is the attempt to eliminate religious symbols from public places, first among them the Crucifix which is certainly the symbol par excellence of the Christian faith but which, at the same time, speaks to all men and women of good will and, as such, does not discriminate".

  The Holy Father went on to thank the Italian government for having operated in this field "in accordance with a correct view of laicism, in the light of its own history, culture and traditions, finding positive support therein also from other European nations. While some societies attempt to marginalise the religious dimension", he said, "recent news stories demonstrate how, in our own time, even flagrant violations of religious freedom take place. Faced with this painful truth, Italian society and government have shown particular sensitivity towards the fate of those Christian minorities who suffer violence and discrimination because of their faith, or are forced to emigrate from their homeland.

  "My hope is", the Pope concluded, "that awareness of this problem may increase and, as a consequence, efforts may be intensified to ensure full respect for religious freedom, everywhere and for everyone. I am certain the Holy See's commitment in this field will not lack Italian support in the international arena".
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