09/17/2008, 00.00
VATICAN
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True separation of church and state cannot leave out the spiritual dimension, says Pope

In “Render unto Caesar . . .” lies the true foundation of freedom and autonomy for earthly matters,” said Benedict XVI as he talked in today’s general audience about the key moments of his recent trip to France. The foundation of every true culture lies in the search for God. In Lourdes there is “a privileged space for encountering God’s love.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The true separation of church and state “does not mean leaving out the spiritual dimension, but acknowledges that the latter is a guarantee of freedom and autonomy for earthly matters.” Before a gathering of 8,000 people in the Vatican’s audience hall Benedict XVI spoke positively again about the principle of the separation of church and state of which France is the standard bearer, talking to his audience about the key moments of his visit to Paris and Lourdes which ended last Monday.

The Pope paid tribute to the “beloved nation” whose cultural development was closely related to the “Church’s fundamental civilising role as early as in the 2nd century.” And “it is interesting that in such a context the need for a healthy distinction between the political and religious spheres developed,” he said.

“A true separation between church and state does not leave out the spiritual dimension,” he explained, “but acknowledges that the latter is, in a radical way, a guarantee of our freedom and autonomy in earthly matters” since Jesus said that one ought to “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s . . . .” Indeed “if Roman coins bore Caesar in effigy and must be returned to him, the Creator’s fingerprint, that of the one and only lord of life, is in man’s heart.”

From this perspective the Pope looked at the reflections he developed after meeting cultural leaders in Paris.

“I began my address with Monasticism whose goal was the search for God” and the “highroad’ he noted. “The search for God led the monks to a culture of the word that sought God following his word.”

“There was a need to get inside the secrets of language” and thus “in searching the God of Revelation secular sciences became important” as did music and architecture. A culture that shaped our own emerged. “Seeking God is the foundation for every true culture.”

The Pope later discussed other moments of his stay in the French capital, including the visit to the Institut de France, an institution comprised of five academies, during which “as a member of one those academies I met my colleagues.” As a cardinal he was a member of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques.

During his time in Lourdes, which he visited on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions, Benedict XVI said that he went along the “path of the Jubilee which follows the life of St Bernadette.”

On the evening of his arrival the Holy Father “took part in the traditional Aux Flambeaux procession, a marvellous expression of [one’s] faith in God and devotion to his and our mother.”

“In a happy coincidence, the Sunday liturgy referred to the Exaltation of the Cross, a sign of hope par excellence, the maximum witness of love,” he said. “In Lourdes pilgrims learn to view life’s crosses in light of Christ’s cross.”

The Pontiff said that during the first apparition, Mary first’s gesture “was the sign of the cross, in silence.” This way “Our lady gave us the first sign of initiation into our faith,” so much so that “in that sign there is the whole message. God loved so much that he was willing to give his life for us.” Such a “mystery of death and glory” shows how “there is no gift of life without pain.”

On Monday during the Mass celebrated in the basilica’s esplanade during which he anointed the sick the Pope said that he “meditated on Mary’s tears under the cross and her smile on Easter Day.”

Towards the end Benedict XVI invited the audience to give thanks to the Lord, especially “because in meeting St Bernadette, Mary opened a privileged space for the world to encounter the Lord’s healing love.”

He concluded saying that “everyone is a pilgrim who needs a mother to guide us” for “her smile is an invitation to us to go forward because God is good; God is love.”

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