On Saturday, Pope Benedict received the Letters of Credence of Charles Ghislain, the new ambassador of Belgium to the Holy See. The Holy Father called on Belgian society to allow the Church and its members to express their beliefs freely, without fear of condemnation.
In his address welcoming the ambassador, the Holy Father stated that the Church “is happy to serve all sectors of Belgian society” and also emphasized that “human life and dignity are a precious resource to be defended and promoted resolutely, especially on the basis of natural law.”
The Church, he noted, “wishes to be a factor of harmonious coexistence among all peoples. To this end she makes her own active contribution, especially through her numerous educational institutions, her social activities and the commitment of many of her faithful to voluntary work.”
Pope Benedict also asserted that “it is worth pointing out that the Church, as an institution, has the right to express herself in public. ... She respects the right of everyone to think differently from herself, and would like to see her own right to expression respected. ... The Church, having the common good as her objective, wants nothing other than the freedom to be able to present this message, not imposing it on anyone, and respecting people's freedom of conscience.”
One example of intolerance for the Church's teachings came after Pope Benedict's trip to Africa in March 2009. In response to comments about how condoms are not the solution to the AIDS crisis in Africa, Belgian politicians voted to censure the Holy Father for his remarks.
Speaking on the Belgian St. Damian de Veuster, the Holy Father stated that “religious roots nourished his education and formation, just as they nourished the teachers who awoke such admirable generosity in him. St. Damian shared his life with marginalized lepers, to the point of suffering himself the illness that afflicted them. With witnesses such as him, everyone can understand that the Gospel is a source of power they need not fear.”
“I am convinced,” he added, “that despite recent social developments, your land remains rich in Christian soil. This can nurture the generous commitment of growing numbers of volunteers who, inspired by the evangelical principles of fraternity and solidarity, accompany people in difficulties.”
The Pope then discussed the recent election of Belgian Herman Van Rompuy as president of the European Council and the country's involvement in Europe, saying, “the art of consensus cannot be reduced to purely dialectic abilities, rather it must seek truth and goodness.”
Quoting his encyclical “Caritas in veritate,” the Pontiff explained that “without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present.”
In his concluding remarks, the Holy Father greeted the bishops, priests, deacons and all of the Catholic faithful in Belgium, saying, “I invite them to bear courageous witness to their faith.”
“In their lives as citizens may they fully exercise their right to propose values that respect human nature, and that correspond to the most profound and authentic spiritual aspirations of the person.”