VATICAN CITY, 31 OCT 2011 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Almir Franco de Sa Barbuda, the new ambassador of Brazil to the Holy See. The Pope began his remarks to the diplomat by expressing his gratitude for the readiness of the Brazilian authorities to host the next World Youth Day, due to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
He then went on to consider the long history of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Brazil, which were established shortly after the country's independence, also highlighting the fruitful influence of the Catholic Church which dates back to the first Mass celebrated there on 26 April 1500. Proof of this is to be found, the Holy Father said, in "the many cities named after saints, and the numerous religious monuments, some of which symbolise the country throughout the world, such as the statue of the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro".
One important chapter of this "shared fertile history" was the agreement the Holy See and the Brazilian government signed in 2008, which "officially and juridically sealed the independence and collaboration of the two parties". In this context, the Pope also expressed the hope that the State would recognise that "healthy secularism must not consider religion as a mere individual sentiment, relegated to the private sphere, but as a reality which, being organised into visible structures, requires public recognition of its presence".
"It is therefore up to the State to ensure that all religious confessions enjoy freedom of worship, and the right to practice their cultural, educational and charitable activities, when these do not contrast with morality or public order", he said. "The Church does not limit her own contribution to concrete humanitarian or educational assistance; rather, she pursues above all the ethical development of society. Encouraged by the numerous expressions of openness to transcendence, she seeks to form consciences and to show solidarity".
Benedict XVI identified a number of fields of mutual cooperation, including that of education in which the Church has "many institutions which enjoy prestigious recognition in society. The role of education cannot, in fact, be reduced to the mere transmission of knowledge and abilities for professional formation", he explained. "Rather it must comprehend all facets of the individual, from social factors to the longing for transcendence. We must, therefore, reiterate that the teaching of a particular religion in State schools, ... far from indicating that the State assumes or imposes a certain religious belief, is recognition of the fact that religion is an important value in the formation of the individual. ... Not only does this not prejudice the secularism of the State, it guarantees parents' rights to chose the education of their children, thus helping to promote the common good".
Finally, on the subject of social justice, the Pope concluded by saying that "the Brazilian government knows that it can rely on the Church as a partner in all initiatives aimed at eradicating hunger and want, ... and helping those most in need to escape poverty ... and marginalisation".
CD/ VIS 20111031 (530)