Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Noel Fahey, the new ambassador of Ireland to the Holy See.
Speaking English, the Pope began his address to the diplomat by recalling how "for over 1600 years Christianity has shaped the cultural, moral and spiritual identity of the Irish people, and it remains as a 'leaven' in the life of your nation. Indeed, the Christian faith has lost nothing of its significance for contemporary society since it touches 'man's deepest sphere'." The Holy Father then turned to consider Ireland's recent economic growth, pointing out how "this prosperity has undoubtedly brought material comfort to many, but in its wake secularism has also begun to encroach and leave its mark."
Benedict XVI had words of praise for a recent initiative to promote a "structured dialogue" between Church and government in Ireland. "Some might question," he said, "whether the Church is entitled to make a contribution to the governance of a nation. In a pluralist democratic society should not faith and religion be restricted to the private sphere?"
"The Church, in articulating revealed truth," he stated, "serves all members of society by shedding light on the foundation of morality and ethics, and by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths and draws upon wisdom. Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, or usurping the role of the State, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus possible and keeps public debate rational, honest and accountable.
"When truth is disregarded," he added, "relativism takes its place: instead of being governed by principles, political choices are determined more and more by public opinion, values are overshadowed by procedures and targets, and indeed the very categories of good and evil, and right and wrong, give way to the pragmatic calculation of advantage and disadvantage."
Benedict XVI went on to mention the fruits of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, which have been achieved "through widespread international support, determined political resolve on the part of both the Irish and the British Governments, and the readiness of individuals and communities to embrace the sublime human capacity to forgive. … It is my fervent prayer that the peace which is already bringing renewal to the North will inspire political and religious leaders in other troubled zones of our world to recognize that only upon forgiveness, reconciliation and mutual respect can lasting peace be built."
"Ireland has in recent years made care of the environment one of its priorities in both domestic policy and international relations. The promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are indeed matters of grave importance for the entire human family, and no nation or business sector should ignore them." However, the Pope noted, "while the majesty of God's hand in creation is readily recognized, the full acknowledgement of the glory and splendor with which He has specifically crowned man is at times less readily understood.
"A kind of split morality ensues," he continued. "The great and vital moral themes of peace, non-violence, justice, and respect for creation do not in themselves confer dignity on man. The primary dimension of morality stems from the innate dignity of human life — from the moment of conception to natural death — a dignity conferred by God Himself."
"How disturbing it is that not infrequently the very social and political groups that, admirably, are most attuned to the awe of God's creation pay scant attention to the marvel of life in the womb. Let us hope that, especially among young people, emerging interest in the environment will deepen their understanding of the proper order and magnificence of God's creation of which man and woman stand at the center and summit."