LA PAZ, Bolivia — In a meeting Wednesday at the Cathedral of La Paz in Bolivia, Pope Francis urged civil authorities to respect religious freedom in order to allow Christians to play their part in civil life.
“Christianity has played an important role in shaping the identity of the Bolivian people,” the Holy Father said.
“Religious freedom — a phrase we often encounter in civil discourse — also reminds us that faith cannot be restricted to a purely subjective experience,” he said. “It also challenges us to help foster the growth of spirituality and Christian commitment in social projects.”
Bolivia is the second of three stops on the Pope’s trip to South America. He visited Ecuador July 5-8 and will spend a few days in Bolivia before heading to Paraguay on July 10 to finish his visit.
The Holy Father’s comments come at a time of tension between Church and state in Bolivia. Although Pope Francis and Bolivian President Evo Morales have met on several occasions and share similar views when it comes to climate and helping the poor, Morales removed the cross and the Bible from the presidential palace as soon as he took office in 2006.
In 2009, despite the overwhelming Catholic majority in the country, a new constitution declared Bolivia a secular state and ruled that Andrean religious rituals would be the official rites at state ceremonies, rather than Catholic ones.
In his address, Pope Francis reminded authorities that when Christians are allowed to live out their faith, they are a benefit to society.
“Christians in particular, as disciples of the Good News, are bearers of a message of salvation which has the ability to ennoble and to inspire great ideals,” he said. “In this way, it leads to ways of acting which transcend individual interest, readiness to make sacrifices for the sake of others, sobriety and other virtues which develop in us the ability to live as one.”
The Holy Father also urged those present to look beyond themselves and their own comfort in order to work for the common good.
“Without even being conscious of it, we confuse the ‘common good’ with ‘prosperity,’ especially when we are the ones who enjoy that prosperity,” the Pope said.
“Prosperity understood only in terms of material wealth has a tendency to become selfish, to defend private interests, to be unconcerned about others and to give free rein to consumerism.”
A society that works for the common good considers what is best for all and not just what is best for certain individuals or interest groups, the Pope added. This is best done in an environment of freedom that respects everyone and builds bridges rather than walls, he said.
“A nation which seeks the common good cannot be closed in on itself; societies are strengthened by networks of relationships,” the Holy Father said. “The current problem of immigration makes this clear. These days it is essential to improve diplomatic relations between the countries of the region, in order to avoid conflicts between sister peoples and to advance frank and open dialogue about their problems.
“How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive it is when those cities are full of spaces which connect, relate and favor the recognition of others!”
The Pope concluded his address by asking for prayers, saying, “I need them.”