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Pope, in France, cautions against fanaticism

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Posted: September 12, 2008 9:14 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Pope, in France, cautions against fanaticism

Pope Benedict XVI addresses the crowd after a vespers service at Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians to make their voices heard in France and other countries that have strong traditions of secularism, saying Friday that politics and religion must be open to each other. The pope embarked Friday on a four-day trip, his first to France as pontiff, that takes him from the presidential Elysee Palace to the Roman Catholic shrine in Lourdes.


    PARIS — Pope Benedict XVI encouraged a greater role for religion in European society but cautioned against fanaticism as he met Friday with political, Jewish and Muslim leaders in his first papal visit to France.
    In separate remarks to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Benedict also called for more attention to the role of faith in shaping consciences and forging ‘‘a basic ethical consensus within society.’’
    France is fiercely proud of its secular division between church and state, and some staunch proponents of that stance were angered by the pope’s remarks on the opening day of a four-day pilgrimage. But others, including Muslim and Jewish figures in Paris, expressed appreciation that he reached out to them.
    Benedict also expressed concern over human rights ranging from ‘‘conception to natural death,’’ Vatican phrasing for abortion and euthanasia.
    On the steps of Notre Dame cathedral at nightfall, he told 60,000 young people, many of them overjoyed at seeing him, that they must be on guard against ‘‘a superficial faith and a dissolute morality.’’
    Several Muslim leaders were among the 600 or so people invited to hear the pope speak about Europe and culture during an evening appearance at a former monastery where monks in medieval times sought to keep learning alive on the continent.
    A papal spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said earlier in the week that the pope sought to meet representatives of various religions, as he often does on foreign trips. France’s population of Jews and Muslims is the largest in Western Europe.
    Jews asked to meet before the culture speech with the pope because of restrictions for the Jewish Sabbath.
    Lombardi said it was coincidental that the monastery speech fell on the second anniversary of remarks Benedict made on a pilgrimage to his native Germany. The pope’s citation in 2006 of a medieval emperor’s discourse on Islam and violence angered many Muslims, and prompted Benedict later to express regret for any offense caused by the words.
    At the 13th century College des Bernadins in Paris, Benedict offered best wishes Friday to Muslim leaders for the holy season of Ramadan, but made no reference to the Germany speech. Benedict grasped the hands of the Muslim leaders as they approached him one by one and warmly greeted each one.
    Said Ali Koussay, who heads the Islamo-Christian Group of Friendship, said he was touched by the pope’s invitation and his brief reference to Ramadan during his 30-minute-long speech.
    ‘‘Inviting us was a mark of recognition from the pope,’’ Koussay said.
    Paris Mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur said he would have liked to have heard ‘‘concrete ideas about Islam, about Muslims and Muslim thought, but in any case what he said will open up the path of understanding.’’
    Jewish leader Richard Prasquier praised the pope for condemning anti-Semitism in their brief meeting in Paris. Benedict also praised those who dedicate themselves to assuring that the victims of the Holocaust always will be remembered.
    ‘‘It was very important to us that that given his busy schedule he took the time out to meet with us on this special day, the Sabbath,’’ Prasquier said.
    The speech in the monastery explored what Benedict called the pulls between ‘‘the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism.’’
    ‘‘It would be a disaster if today’s European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness,’’ Benedict said.
    He told reporters on the flight to Paris that ‘‘religion and politics must be open to each other.’’
    ‘‘The presence of Christian values is fundamental for the survival of our nations and our societies,’’ he said.
    Benedict seemed to have found an ally in Sarkozy, who has tested taboos on mixing religious and state affairs.
    In his welcoming speech at the presidential Elysee Palace, Sarkozy advocated a greater role for religions in society’s debates.
    ‘‘It would be folly to deprive ourselves of that, a blow against culture and thought,’’ Sarkozy said.
    As the Vatican tries to invigorate the Christian roots of Western Europe, Benedict has held up as an example the United States, where politicians are sensitive to religious positions in adopting policy despite the historical separation of church and state.
    Raising eyebrows from die-hard secularists, Sarkozy and his wife, Carla, a former model, greeted the pontiff at a Paris airport, stepping up protocol which originally called for Benedict to be formally welcomed by the prime minister.
    Socialist Sen. Jean-Luc Melenchon painted the pope’s visit as a deliberate effort to weaken France’s secular foundations.
    The pope flies Saturday to Lourdes, the religious shrine in southern France that draws millions of pilgrims annually, many of them hoping for miraculous cures.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Jenny Barchfield and Angela Doland contributed to this report.

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