Secularism Must Not Be Confused With Laicism, Pope Cautions
Says the Former Shouldn't Ignore Spiritual Dimension of People
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 27, 2004 (Zenit.org).-
An erroneous conception of secularism that would violate the right to
religious freedom has become one of John Paul II's main concerns.
Debates on the recognition of the Christian roots of Europe, and the
French law to prohibit religious symbols in public schools, have
prompted the Pope to address the question on repeated occasions.
He did so again today when he met with French bishops of the
ecclesiastical province of Besanšon and the Archdiocese of Strasbourg,
who were ending their five-yearly visit to Rome.
The Holy Father referred to his Jan. 12 address to the diplomatic
corps accredited to the Holy See and said "a well-understood
secularism must not be confused with laicism."
On that occasion, he said that secularism is the "respect for all
beliefs on the part of the state, which ensures the free exercise of
worship and of spiritual, cultural and charitable activities of the
communities of believers."
Laicism, he explained, is when the state pretends to ignore this
dimension, either at the personal or communal level.
Today, the Pope emphasized in his address to the French bishops that
an authentic view of secularism "cannot erase personal and communal
"To try to remove from the social field this important [religious]
dimension in the lives of persons and peoples, as well as the signs
that manifest them, would go against a well-understood freedom," he
"Freedom of worship cannot be conceived without the freedom to
practice individually and collectively one's religion, or without the
freedom of the Church," the Pope added. "Religion cannot be reduced
only to the private sphere."
John Paul II has addressed his concern about erroneous concepts of
secularism on several occasions recently. On Feb. 24 he addressed the
argument with the new ambassador of Mexico to the Holy See, and on
Feb. 21 with the new envoy of Turkey.
"Every Christian or member of a religion has the right, in the measure
that this does not threaten the security and legitimate authority of
the state, to be respected in his convictions and practices, in the
name of religious freedom, which is one of the fundamental aspects of
freedom of conscience," the Pope said in his address today.
Addressing the question of religion in the schools, the Holy Father
said that "it is necessary that young people be able to understand the
importance of religious life in personal existence and social life,
that they know the religious traditions that they encounter, and that
they be able to look upon religious symbols with benevolence and
recognize the Christian roots of European cultures and history."
"This leads to respectful recognition of the other and his beliefs, to
a positive dialogue," the Pontiff said.
He encouraged interreligious dialogue with the growing Muslim
community in France.
"This dialogue," the Pope said, "must revive in Christians the
awareness of their faith and their attachment to the Church, as every
form of relativism seriously damages relations between religions."
Charbel for Life
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