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"The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility toward the less fortunate"

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Zenit) - Freedom is a challenge for each new generation, and must be constantly "won over" for the cause of good, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today in the White House on the first full day of his two-city tour of the United States. He was welcomed by President George Bush and his wife, Laura, and some 9,000 guests for an official reception ceremony.

The Holy Father said, "I am happy to be here as a guest of all Americans. I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society. America’s Catholics have made, and continue to make, an excellent contribution to the life of their country.

As I begin my visit, I trust that my presence will be a source of renewal and hope for the Church in the United States, and strengthen the resolve of Catholics to contribute ever more responsibly to the life of this nation, of which they are proud to be citizens."

As could perhaps be expected during a visit to a country known as the "land of the free," the Pontiff focused much of his first public address on the issue of freedom.

"From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator," he said.

"The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles.

"In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement."

According to conscience

Benedict XVI praised the fact that in the United States, believers from a variety of religions have the freedom to worship "in accordance with the dictates of their conscience, while at the same time being accepted as part of a commonwealth in which each individual and group can make its voice heard."

Still, the Holy Father cautioned, freedom is not just a gift; it also "summons to personal responsibility."

"The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility toward the less fortunate," he affirmed. "It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate.

"In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good."

Soulless democracy

Recalling Pope John Paul II's teaching, Benedict XVI affirmed that "'in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,' and a democracy without values can lose its very soul."

The Pope said that George Washington, the first U.S. president said something similar when he contended that "religion and morality represent 'indispensable supports' of political prosperity."

The Holy Father insisted that the Church wants to contribute in building a better world, one "ever more worthy of the human person."

The Church, he said, believes that faith "sheds new light on all things."

"Faith also gives us the strength to respond to our high calling, and the hope that inspires us to work for an ever more just and fraternal society," the Pontiff added.

"Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation."

Advancing rights

The Holy Father turned his attention to his Friday address at the United Nations.

"On this, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the need for global solidarity is as urgent as ever, if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity -- as brothers and sisters dwelling in the same house and around that table which God’s bounty has set for all his children," he said.

"America has traditionally shown herself generous in meeting immediate human needs, fostering development and offering relief to the victims of natural catastrophes," Benedict XVI continued.

"I am confident that this concern for the greater human family will continue to find expression in support for the patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts and promote progress.

"In this way, coming generations will be able to live in a world where truth, freedom and justice can flourish -- a world where the God-given dignity and rights of every man, woman and child are cherished, protected and effectively advanced."

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