This morning in the Vatican, the Pope received Giorgio Napolitano, president of the Italian Republic, on an official visit. President Napolitano took office on May 15 this year.
Following a private meeting in his library, the Holy Father delivered an address, which was followed by some words from President Napolitano.
"Church and State," said Pope Benedict, "are both called, according to their respective missions and with their own ends and means, to serve man, ... and they collaborate in promoting his integral good."
The Holy Father highlighted how the civil community's solicitude for the good of citizens "cannot be limited ... to their physical health, economic wellbeing, intellectual formation and social relationships," and he stressed the fact that "human beings present themselves before the State also in their religious dimension."
"It would be reductive to consider that the right to religious freedom is sufficiently guaranteed when personal convictions suffer no violence or interference, or when we limit ourselves to respecting the expression of faith within the confines of a place of worship. It cannot, in fact, be forgotten that 'the social nature of man itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community.' Religious freedom is, then, not just of individuals, but also of families, of religious groups and of the Church herself."
"Adequate respect of the right to religious freedom," said the Pope, "implies, then, the commitment of civil authorities in helping to create 'conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties'."
"The freedom that the Church and Christians claim does not prejudice the interests of the State or of other social groups, and does not seek an authoritative supremacy over them. Rather, it is a condition enabling ... the fulfillment of the vital service that the Church offers to Italy, and to all other countries in which she is present. This service to society, ... is also expressed towards the civil and political spheres. Indeed, although it is true that by her nature and mission 'the Church is not and does not intend to be a political player,' nonetheless she 'has a profound interest in the good of the political community'."
The Pope went on: "This specific contribution is chiefly made by the lay faithful," who "when they commit themselves through word and deed to confronting the great modern challenges, ... do not act out of their own specific interests or in the name of principles perceptible only to people who profess a specific religious creed. Rather, they do so in the context of, and following the rules of, democratic coexistence, for the good of all of society and in the name of values that all people of good will can share."
At the end of his address, the Pope expressed the hope that Italy "may continue to advance along the path of authentic progress, and offer the international community its precious contribution, always promoting those human and Christian values that have forged the country's history and culture, and its heritage of ideals, laws and arts; values that still lie at the base of the lives and activities of its citizens. These efforts," he concluded, "will not lack the loyal and generous contribution of the Catholic Church through the teaching of her bishops, ... and the work of all the faithful."
In his talk, President Napolitano highlighted his "profound awareness of the Catholic Church's exalted universal mission, and of the precious service she offers the nation." He also recalled how, "in Italy, the harmony of relations between State and Church has been and still is guaranteed by the lay principle of distinction, as sanctioned in the Constitution, as well as by the commitment - proclaimed in the agreements of revision of the Concordat - 'to reciprocal collaboration for the promotion of man and for the good of the country.' ... We believe deeply in the importance of such collaboration," the president added, and "we know and appreciate ... the public and social dimensions of religion."
Following his meeting with the Pope, the Italian president went on to visit Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B., with whom he held a private meeting. He was then accompanied to the Sala Regia, where the cardinal secretary of State introduced him the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See.
In the Sala Regia, Cardinal Bertone delivered a talk in which he highlighted "the breadth of the relations the Holy See maintains with numerous States on all continents and with various international organizations. ... It is not by chance that even those who do not share our Christian faith look to the Pope as spokesman of the supreme moral prerequisites, and heed his calls for respect for the dignity of man, the promotion of peace and development, and sincere collaboration between peoples, religions and cultures for a better future for the human family."
The official ceremony concluded with a visit by President Napolitano to St. Peter's Basilica.
The Holy See Press Office released an official communique at the end of the Italian president's visit: "During the cordial discussions, satisfaction was expressed for the good relations between the Holy See and Italy, and between Church and State in the country. While respecting the right to religious freedom, and the respective autonomy of the ecclesial and civil communities, as well as their mutual collaboration, Italian Catholics will continue to make their contribution towards the dignity of man, the protection of life and the family, and the common good of society."
"The meetings also provided an opportunity to consider various aspects of international life, with particular emphasis on the delicate situation in the Middle East, on the prospects for the process of European integration, and on the serious problems of the African continent. The Holy See and Italy will continue to collaborate for a better working of international institutions."