Pope arrives in France, says society needs inspiration of Gospel
By John Thavis Catholic News Service
PARIS (CNS) -- Arriving in France for a four-day visit, Pope Benedict XVI called for a new chapter of church-state cooperation, saying modern society greatly needs the inspiration of the Gospel.
The pope appealed in particular on behalf of struggling youths, the suffering poor and the polluted planet.
In all three areas, the pope said Sept. 12, the church can bring hope and help create an "ethical consensus" in a society that sometimes lacks values and direction."
This hope is all the more necessary in today's world, which offers few spiritual aspirations and few material certainties," the pope said at an official welcoming ceremony at Elysee Palace.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warmly welcomed the pope and applauded his words. In the president's own speech, he said religion did not represent a danger for any democracy and that Christian values constituted a "living patrimony" for the whole society.
Describing himself as a "sower of charity and hope," the pope quickly zeroed in on a perennial and crucial issue in France: the proper role of the church in a secular society.
On one hand, he said, it was right to "insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the state toward them."
At the same time, he said, society must become more aware of "the irreplaceable role of religion" in forming consciences and instilling values.
The pope then turned to several specific issues where the church's influence is needed today. His greatest concern, he said, is for young people.
"Some of them are struggling to find the right direction or are suffering from a loss of connection to family life," he said.
Other young people are left on the margins, spiritually seeking but vulnerable, and they need sound educational direction, he said. The church has a specific role in this regard, he said.