On his maiden visit to France as pope, Benedict XVI made his way from a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Notre Dame cathedral, where he was given a "rock star reception," according to FRANCE 24's reporting team.
From a flower bedecked podium outside a magnificently illuminated Notre Dame cathedral in
The pope’s address Friday evening capped a busy day, his first on a four-day visit to
Earlier Friday, thousands of people lined the streets of
Inside the majestic Gothic cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Paris, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church led an evening service attended by more than six thousand young people.
Outside Notre Dame, a jubilant crowd, many of them young Catholics waving yellow flags, greeted the pontiff as he arrived from the College of Bernardins, where he had delivered a speech to a gathering of religious leaders.
“It’s a bit like a rock festival,” said FRANCE 24’s David Crossan. “Pope Benedict XVI lacks the charisma of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, but he is being warmly received here despite his reputation as a more austere figure.”
The pope’s four-day visit to France is his first since he took office.
Reporting from Notre Dame, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said the German-born pope’s visit was the “first test” to measure his influence in France.
“Young Catholics are expecting to learn a lot about Pope Benedict XVI,” Vanier said. “For most French people, the pope is still John Paul II. This is an opportunity for them to get to know him.”
Sarkozy greets Pope at the airport
At this arrival in Paris earlier Friday, Pope Benedict was welcomed in person by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
The French president has previously reserved this honor for only two visitors: former South African President Nelson Mandela and the freed hostage of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Ingrid Betancourt.
The pontiff, aged 81, walked briskly down the aircraft stairs to join the presidential couple and Paris Archbishop André Vingt-Trois, who chairs the conference of French bishops.
Sarkozy renews his call for "positive secularism"
At a press conference after his meeting with the pope, Sarkozy renewed his call for "positive secularism" – an expression he coined during his visit to Rome last December to allow religion to play a greater role in public life. The notion had attracted virulent criticism in France, where a 1905 law strictly separates church and state.
Sarkozy said that "democracy cannot content itself with relying on arithmetic vote counts" and stated that "a dialogue with religions is appropriate in a democracy and respects secularism." He added: "It would be madness to do without it."
The French president also stressed the importance of "human dignity" when dealing with economic or scientific choices. On those issues, he told Benedict XVI: "Our duty is to listen to what you have to tell us."
Speaking effortlessly in French, the pope welcomed "positive secularism" as a "beautiful expression."
"In this historic moment, when cultures are getting more and more intertwined, I am deeply convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of secularism has become necessary," he said.
Taking a stance on social issues, Benedict XVI said it was "possible to find just solutions" to problems such as the growing gap between the rich and the poor. "It is up to the State to legislate to eradicate injustice," he added.
According to Cardinal Poupard, the Pope's special envoy to Lourdes, Benedict XVI is worried that "there is something broken between faith and reason."
"One of his great preoccupations - and Paris is an exceptional place to say it again - is that there is in fact a deep alliance between faith and reason," he said in an interview with FRANCE 24.
Bernard Lecomte, author of Benoît XVI : le dernier pape européen (Benedict XVI: Europe's last pope), has the same approach: "The purpose of the Pope is to say: 'If you leave God out, you are heading for a precipice'," he told FRANCE 24, adding: "On that point, Benedict XVI and Nicolas Sarkozy are pretty much in agreement."
Date created : 2008-09-12