Mexico's new ambassador to the Vatican, Hector Federico Ling Altamirano, met with Pope Benedict on Friday morning to present his letters of credence and discuss the state of his country. The Holy Father spoke with Ling about the nature of religious freedom, and praised the end of the death penalty and efforts to protect the unborn.
Mexico, the Pope recalled, has an identity that has been "forged over the centuries in a fruitful relationship with the message of salvation proclaimed by the Catholic Church."
"Faith in Jesus Christ," he added, "has engendered a culture in Mexico that provides a specific and complete meaning for life, and a hopeful vision of existence, at the same time setting out a series of fundamental principles for the harmonious development of all society."
One example of this harmonious culture is the Sixth World Meeting of Families, held in Mexico City this past January. Pope Benedict pointed out that Mexicans hold the family in "high esteem," and that "it is of vital consequence that families be given adequate assistance, that homes continue to be schools of mutual respect and understanding, seedbeds of human virtues and a reason for hope in the rest of society."
Noting that Mexico and the Holy See recently celebrated their 50th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic relations, the Holy Father recalled that the events focused on "the correct understanding a true democratic State and its duty to protect and support religious freedom in all aspects of its public and social life."
Religious freedom has a troubled history in Mexico, which did not guarantee the right in its 1917 Constitution. Between 1926 and 1929, Mexico witnessed the open persecution of priests and religious as well as lay people.
In his remarks to Ambassador Ling, the Holy Father spoke about the nature of religious freedom, saying, "The truth is that religious freedom is not just one more right among many others, nor a privilege claimed by the Catholic Church. ... It belongs to the essence of each individual, of each people and each nation."
Benedict XVI also stated that religious freedom cannot be restricted to "the mere coexistence of citizens who practice their religion privately, or limited to the free exercise of worship." Rather, he said, "it must ensure that believers have full guarantees of being able to express their religious beliefs, at the same time making their contribution to forging the common good and a just social order in all aspects of life, with no restriction or coercion.
"In this context the Catholic Church, while she supports and encourages this positive vision of the role of religion in society, does not wish to interfere in the due autonomy of civil institutions."
As Mexico battles against the wave of violence and death that drug cartels and organized crime are causing, the Pope praised the country's efforts to "foment a more just and united ordering of society and to overcome the contrasts that continue to afflict the country," among them "such serious questions as violence, drug trafficking, and inequality and poverty which are fertile ground for delinquency."
Finally, the Holy Father stressed that, "It cannot be over emphasized that the right to life must be recognized in all its fullness." Since Mexico City legalized abortion, numerous Mexican states have passed laws to protect life from conception to natural death.
The Pope lauded these laws as well as the end of the death penalty, saying, "I joyfully greet the initiative by which Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2005, and the recent measures adopted by some Mexican states to protect human life from its beginnings. These resolute moves in such a fundamental question should be an emblem of your homeland, one of which it can be justly proud."