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In true democracies, says Pope, religious freedom can, must exist

.- In a meeting today with Luis Felipe Bravo Mena, Mexico's new ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need for religious freedom in democratic states and said that favorable progress had been made in relations between that Mexico and the Holy See. The Pope received the diplomat's Letters of Credence earlier today at the Vatican and said that that "since 1992, when diplomatic relations were established between Mexico and the Holy See, notable progress has been made, in a climate of mutual respect and collaboration that has benefited both parties."

He said that "this encourages us to continue working, each with their own autonomy and respective competencies, bearing in mind the main objective: the integral promotion of people, who are children of the nation and, the great majority of them, children of the Catholic Church."

Pope Benedict also spoke on the Church's view of democracy saying that "a democratic lay State is what safeguards the religious practices of its citizens, without preference or denial. In fact, the Church believes that in modern democratic societies full religious freedom can and must exist. In a lay State, it is the citizens who, in exercising their freedom, give a particular religious meaning to social life."

"Furthermore," he said, "a modern State must serve and protect the freedom of its citizens and the religious practices they chose, without restriction or coercion."

The Pope concluded his address with a note on the forthcoming elections in 2006, "which represent an opportunity and a challenge to consolidate the significant progress made in democratizing the country."

"It is to be hoped", he said, "that the electoral process contributes to a continued strengthening of the democratic order, firmly orienting it towards policies inspired by the common good and by the integral promotion of all citizens, with special care for the weakest and most unprotected. Mexican bishops referred to this in their message before the start of the electoral process. The title of that message, 'Strengthen democracy by rebuilding civic trust,' well indicates the needs of the present time."

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