Friday, September 12, 2008

Bonjour, Paris

Touching down for his four-day weekend in France earlier today, the Pope was formally welcomed at the Elysee by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his new bride, the model-singer-songwriter Carla Bruni, as the pontiff focused on the affirmative role of faith in a secular society:
Pope Benedict XVI called for a new chapter of church-state cooperation [FULLTEXT], 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.

Earlier, Sarkozy broke protocol to greet the pope personally at Orly Airport, accompanied by his wife, Carla Bruni.

It was Pope Benedict's first visit to France as pope, and the trip represented a test for one of the primary goals of his pontificate: to reinvigorate the Christian roots of Europe.

Speaking to reporters aboard his chartered plane en route to Paris, the pope made it clear that he came as a friend of France and an admirer of its contributions in art, architecture, philosophy and theology -- a rich culture, he noted, that was largely formed by Christians....

On a broader issue, the pope said he was concerned about "the state of our planet."

"With great generosity, God has entrusted to us the world that he created. We must learn to respect and protect it more. It seems to me that the time has come for more constructive proposals so as to guarantee the good of future generations," he said.
The pope noted that France currently holds the presidency of the European Union, and he called on the country to promote the defense of "the inalienable rights of the human person from conception to natural death."

He urged French leaders to help build peace within European borders, warning that the continent faced the danger of a "resurgence of old suspicions, tensions and conflicts among nations."

While the pope was not specific, he appeared to be referring to the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia and the resulting damage to U.S.-Russian relations.

Although there have been serious pastoral problems in France, including a drastic drop in sacramental practice among Catholics, the pope's first major address in the country was almost entirely positive. He cited the long list of contributions made by French Catholic communities and said the French people should know that their country is "often at the heart of the pope's prayers."

In church-state relations, he said, past suspicions have been transformed into "a serene and positive dialogue."

In making the point that "the roots of France -- like those of Europe -- are Christian," he cited Sarkozy's own statement to that effect last year.

Sarkozy, who was born and raised a Catholic, is twice divorced and describes his religious practice today as "sporadic." However, he has strongly affirmed the Catholic Church's cultural imprint in France and defended the right of the church to a voice in public affairs.
Later today -- the second anniversary of his much-noted lecture at the university of Regensburg that sparked considerable protest in the Muslim world -- B16 will give another talk before the City of Light's cultural community before presiding at Vespers in Notre-Dame Cathedral. Tomorrow morning brings an open-air Mass in the capital before the Pope departs for Lourdes, where he'll spend the remainder of the trip.

More as it comes.

PHOTOS: Reuters