Pope defends religion's place in public life
Pope Benedict XVI warned Friday of "worrying signs" that religion's role in public life was diminishing, in a speech before an audience including four former British prime ministers.
The pope told the crowd of lawmakers including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major, of his concerns of a "failure" to appreciate "the legitimate role of religion in the public square".
Having warned at the start of his state visit Thursday of the risk of "aggressive secularism" taking hold in Britain, Benedict returned to the theme Friday, voicing his concern at the "marginalisation" of religion.
"I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance," the pope said.
He added: "There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none."
The head of the Roman Catholic Church invited the audience to "seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life."
London's Evening Standard newspaper responded to the pope's speech with a front page headline: "Pope's plea to save Christmas".
Blair and his successor as prime minister Brown were seated side by side in Westminster Hall -- the historic heart of the Houses of Parliament -- to hear the speech.
Blair, who converted to Catholicism shortly after leaving office, strongly criticised Brown in his recently published memoirs, but the pair appeared to be chatting before the pope arrived.
Britain's current premier, David Cameron, could not attend the event because he was at the funeral of his father, Ian, but will meet the pope on Saturday.
The 83-year-old pontiff fulfilled the complete Friday itinerary of his visit despite the arrest of six men in connection with a terror alert linked to the visit, the first ever state visit to Britain by a pope.
© 2010 AFP