Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pope Calls For Redefinition Of Church-State Relations In France

By Rachel Donadio

Pope Benedict XVI greeted well-wishers as he left Notre Dame cathedral in Paris yesterday after a prayer service. Benedict began a four-day trip to France, his first to that country as pope. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
LOURDES, France: Benedict XVI on Sunday renewed his call to redefine church-state relations in France and urged the Roman Catholic clergy to engage in meaningful interreligious dialogue.

Speaking to French bishops at this pilgrimage site Sunday, the pope urged initiatives that fostered "reciprocal knowledge and respect, as well as the promotion of dialogue," but said to "avoid those which lead to impasses. Good will is not enough."

In his speech to the bishops, the pope also amplified his call for a redefinition of "laïcité," the divide between church and state, that he first raised at a visit to the Élysée Palace in Paris on Friday.

"Your president has intimated that this is possible," Benedict said Sunday, referring to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has broken French tradition - and angered his Socialist opposition - in calling for a "positive secularism."

"The social and political presuppositions of past mistrust or even hostility are gradually disappearing," the pope said. But, he added, "the church does not claim the prerogative of the state." The pope arrived Saturday in this rocky southwestern city to mark the 150th anniversary of the year a local 14-year-old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary.

Since the late 19th century, millions of Catholics, some traveling in wheelchairs and stretchers, have made pilgrimages to Lourdes. Many claim to have been miraculously cured by the spring waters, though the Vatican recognizes only 67 miracles here.

An estimated 50,000 people attended an open-air mass Sunday morning, where Benedict told worshipers that "the power of love is stronger than the evil that threatens us."

After a candlelight procession Saturday night, the pope called on worshipers to recall "innocent victims who suffer from violence, war, terrorism or famine," as well as people facing "suffering caused by unemployment, illness, infirmity, loneliness, or their situation as immigrants."

Benedict's visit recalled that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who traveled to Lourdes on his final foreign trip, in 2004, less than a year before he died. Too weak to celebrate Mass, John Paul called himself "a sick man among the sick."

The 81-year-old Benedict conducted prayers and greeted the faithful. And he kept an intense schedule on his first visit to France as pope. Before leaving Paris on Saturday morning, he celebrated an open-air Mass before more than a quarter million people on the Esplanade des Invalides.

Although best known as a theologian and professor, Benedict has visited shrines to the Virgin Mary on eight of his 10 trips abroad, emphasizing the more devotional and less intellectual aspects of Catholicism.

John Allen, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican expert, said: "It has become a project of this pope to try to call Catholics back to a strong sense of their own identity, and there is no more classic marker of Catholic identity than devotion to the Virgin Mary."

Although Mass attendance is low in Europe, pilgrimage sites have risen in popularity. This year, eight million pilgrims are expected in Lourdes, up from six million a year in recent years.

On Monday the pope was expected to celebrate a Mass for the sick before returning to Rome.

Source: Boston.ComIht.Com

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