In France to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech today in Paris:

At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité is now necessary. In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to—among other things—the creation of a basic ethical consensus within society.

As The New York Times notes:

Benedict XVI touched on central themes of his papacy — including the tensions between faith and reason and church and state as well as his efforts to reach out to Muslims and Jews — and urged an increasingly irreligious Europe to look back to its intellectual roots in Christian monastic culture.

Read the full text of the Pope’s speech here.