Debate over France’s strict separation between religion and state has been reignited.
Pope Benedict has been welcomed to the Elysee Palace by President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has broken with presidential protocol by speaking publicly about religion.
The president says he sees a positive role for faith in public life, but his critics say his job is not to promote Christian ideology.
Benedict said: “Mr President, you’ve used the beautiful expression “positive secularism” to qualify this more open understanding. In these historic times, where cultures are increasingly coming closer together, I’m deeply convinced that we need to take another look at the real sense and importance of secularism.”
France has been a secular state since 1905, and it used to be taboo for politicians to even mention their faith. This is also a country where the Catholic church is struggling with a shortage of priests and Sunday Mass attendance is said to be below 10 percent.
During his first visit to France as pontiff, Benedict is also due to visit the popular pilgrimage site of Lourdes.