Pope Benedict XVI encouraged a greater role for religion in European society but cautioned against fanaticism as he met Friday with political, Jewish and Muslim leaders in his first papal visit to France.
In separate remarks to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Benedict also called for more attention to the role of faith in shaping consciences and forging “a basic ethical consensus within society.”
France is fiercely proud of its secular division between church and state, and some staunch proponents of that stance were angered by the pope's remarks on the opening day of a four-day pilgrimage. But others, including Muslim and Jewish figures in Paris, expressed appreciation that he reached out to them.
Benedict also expressed concern over human rights from “conception to natural death,” Vatican phrasing for abortion and euthanasia.
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On the steps of Notre Dame cathedral at nightfall, he told 60,000 young people, many of them overjoyed at seeing him, that they must be on guard against “a superficial faith and a dissolute morality.”
Several Muslim leaders were among the 600 or so people invited to hear the pope speak about Europe and culture during an evening appearance at a former monastery where monks in medieval times sought to keep learning alive on the continent.
A papal spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said earlier in the week that the pope sought to meet representatives of various religions, as he often does on foreign trips. France's population of Jews and Muslims is the largest in Western Europe.
Jews asked to meet before the culture speech with the pope because of restrictions for the Jewish Sabbath.
At the 13th century College des Bernadins in Paris, Benedict offered best wishes Friday to Muslim leaders for the holy season of Ramadan.
Said Ali Koussay, who heads the Islamo-Christian Group of Friendship, said he was touched by the pope's invitation and his brief reference to Ramadan during his 30-minute speech.
“Inviting us was a mark of recognition from the pope,” Koussay said.
Jewish leader Richard Prasquier praised the pope for condemning anti-Semitism in their brief meeting in Paris. Benedict also praised those who dedicate themselves to assuring that the victims of the Holocaust always will be remembered.