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ZE10100809 - 2010-10-08

Sarkozy Seeks to Confirm Collaboration With Church

Visits Benedict XVI in the Vatican

By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2010 ( French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Benedict XVI today to confirm constructive collaboration with the Catholic Church, after differences that have arisen in recent months.

A communiqué issued by the Holy See affirmed the "joint desire to maintain permanent dialogue at various institutional levels, and to continue constructive collaboration on matters of mutual interest."

Some positions assumed by Sarkozy's government have caused a distancing of French Catholics who supported the president in the 2007 elections.

The spark that served Sarkozy to request the audience -- held in the Holy Father's library for some 30 minutes -- was kindled on Aug. 22, when the Pope exhorted French pilgrims gathered at Castel Gandolfo for the midday Angelus to "accept legitimate human differences." The Pontiff's comment came after the president announced the expulsion from France of gypsies who in the majority are of European origin.

After today's audience with the Pope, the president and his advisers met for about an hour with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.

Common ground

According to the Holy See communiqué, "The cordial discussions focused on the international political situation, including the Middle East peace process, the position of Christians in various countries, and increasing the representation of world regions in multilateral organizations.

"Attention subsequently turned to underlining the importance of the ethical and social dimension of economic problems, in light of the encyclical 'Caritas in Veritate.'"

The communiqué revealed that the Pope and Sarkozy recalled the papal trip to Lourdes and Paris in 2008, and President Sarkozy's visit to the Vatican the previous year, as signs of the collaboration that both seek to promote, in respect of their competent spheres.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Pope said to Sarkozy: "I have great memories of my visit to France" and immediately after, he evoked "the Catholic soul" of the country.

Sarkozy responded assuring him that "the visit was a great success."

In the exchange of gifts, Sarkozy gave the Holy Father original editions of the books "Génie du christianisme" and "Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe," by François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848).

The Pope gave the president a large engraving of St. Peter's Square as well as a ceramic representation of the first Pope.

At the end of the meeting, Sarkozy paused a few moments to ask Benedict XVI for a rosary for his niece, like those he had given to each member of the entourage. The Pontiff immediately obliged, obtaining one from his private secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein.

A prayer in the Vatican

After the meeting with Cardinal Bertone, Sarkozy and his delegation went at 1 p.m. to St. Peter's Basilica, which had been closed to the public.

The president paused for a few moments of prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, before the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and at the altar of the Confession, and the tomb of St. Peter.

Then he was received in the chapel of St. Petronilla by French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The cardinal prayed "for the people of France and its leaders, of today and tomorrow," asking for "courage and perseverance so that each one may consider what he can do alone or with others at the service of his neighbor, for absolute respect for life, justice, employment, education, health and the environment, security, to receive the persecuted and immigrants, and for the truth of information, for peace in our land and in the world."

For a new secularity

After leaving the Vatican, Sarkozy presided over a lunch in the Villa Bonaparte, headquarters of the French embassy to the Holy See, in the presence of Cardinal Bertone.

The president gave an address, affirming that he seeks to promote relations with the Church and to defend its positions.

"France does not forget that it has a common history of 2,000 years with the Church and that today it shares with her an inestimable treasure of moral values, of culture, of civilization, which have been inscribed in its identity," said the president.

"The Church, with the spiritual means proper to her [and] the French Republic, with its political means, serve many common causes," he added, assuring that both seek "justice," "balance," "peace," "fraternity."

"Then, why don't they speak to one another? Why can't they work together?" he asked.

"I believe in the distinction of the spiritual and the temporal as a principle of liberty," he said. "I believe in secularity as a principle of respect. But the Church cannot be indifferent in face of the problems of the society to which she belongs as an institution, and politics cannot be indifferent in face of the religious event and spiritual and moral values. There is no religion without social responsibility, there is no politics without morality."

Then Sarkozy mentioned some "moral imperatives" that must be achieved without delay, such as the reform of "world governance," the regulation of finances to avoid "speculative madness," stabilization of markets to prevent hunger, regulation of the Internet and, finally the "fight against illegal immigration" that produces tragedies and deprives poor countries of their living forces.


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