Lay Catholics should “personally participate in public life” and “cultivate a spirit of sincere and loyal cooperation with the State,” Pope Benedict XVI told the bishops of Italy on the 150th anniversary of the country’s founding.
“Do not hesitate to encourage the lay faithful to overcome any spirit of close-mindedness, distraction and indifference and to personally participate in public life,” the Pope said.
He urged the bishops to facilitate formation for the laity to enable them to effectively operate within the public square.
“Encourage training initiatives inspired by the social doctrine of the Church, so that those who have political and administrative responsibilities do not fall victim to the temptation to exploit their position for personal gain or the thirst for power,” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict was joining the Italian bishops at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome to pray the Rosary and ask for “the maternal protection of Mary” upon “this beloved nation.”
His address was charged with historical significance as the relationship between the Church and State in Italy hasn’t always been an easy one.
Papal troops fought 150 years ago to prevent the political radical, Giuseppe Garibaldi, from uniting the various states which now constitute Italy.
Defeat saw a diplomatic stand-off emerge between the Vatican and the new Italian state that continued till 1929. Only then were relations re-established, following the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the two sides.
In his May 26 address, Pope Benedict explained the limits of the Church’s relationship with the State.
“She (the Church) does not pursue privileges, nor intends to replace the responsibility of political institutions, being respectful of the legitimate role of the secular state.”
But he also outlined what the Church can teach the political community about “fundamental human rights” based on transcendent ethical values “which precede any state jurisdiction and are intrinsic to the nature of the human person.”
“In this way the Church ... continues to make her own contribution to building of the common good, reminding us of our duty to promote and protect human life in all its stages and to support effectively the family; that is, in fact, the first reality in which we can grow to become free and responsible persons.”