BY STAFF REPORTER
THE POPE has warned France’s bishops of the dangers of the increasingly secular mood of their country.
Any attempt to erase the visible signs of one’s religious belief goes against the concept of freedom of religion, he said only weeks after crosses, skull caps and Islamic headdresses were banned from French schools.
“The participation of Christians in public life, the visible presence of the Catholic Church and of other religious confessions, ” does not violate the principles of separation of Church and state, the Pope told the bish ops at the end of their ad limina visits to the Vatican.
The freedoms guaranteed in a democracy, the Pope said, must include the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs, even in public.
“To try to erase from the social field this important dimension of the life of individuals and peoples as well as any signs that manifest this belief would be contrary to a correct understanding of freedom.” Earlier last month, France’s National Assembly backed a controversial Bill that bans students wearing an “ostentatious” sign of their religious affiliation inside a public school. The ban, expected to pass the Senate this month, is expected to include the Islamic head scarf, Jewish skullcap, Sikh turban and large crucifixes.
Proponents of the ban said it would preserve the secular nature of the French state.
John Paul told the French bishops: “It’s important that young people be able to understand the importance religion plays in people’s personal and social lives.” An understanding of religious symbols, as well as “the recognition of the Christian roots of culture and European history”, would lead young people “to respect the other and his or her beliefs,” he said, adding that it would also bring about positive dialogue.