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Pope makes history with parliament speech

By Eric J. Lyman
From the International Desk
Published 11/14/2002 4:32 PM
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ROME, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- In an address heavy with historical implications, Pope John Paul II used an address to the Italian parliament to call on world religions to cooperate to fight terrorism, and he urged Italians to have more children.

But the address -- the first by a pope to Italian lawmakers -- will be most remembered for breaking a 132-year-long sometimes icy relationship between Italy and the Holy See, which saw its temporal powers ended by Italian unification in 1870.

Until the 108 acres of the Vatican were set up by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as the world's smallest country in 1929, popes officially considered themselves "prisoners" of the Italian state.

The Holy See and the Italian government have periodically been at odds when laws were passed over the years allowing divorce, abortion and birth control -- all against church teachings. To this day, many citizens of predominantly Catholic Italy view the Vatican with suspicion.

But John Paul, the best traveled pope in history, became the first pontiff to make the trip of less than a mile to the parliament building, which was originally built as the headquarters for the papacy's courts.

He used the opportunity to address what he called a list of the world's and Italy's most serious ills in a speech interrupted several times by applause.

The 82-year-old pontiff said that using religion to justify acts of terror was wrong, and he called on faiths to unite to fight terror groups by educating believers so that religious reasons are used less to justify violence.

He also blamed the use of contraceptives for Italy's low birth rate, which is fueling a host of problems in the country, ranging from a shrinking working class to an increasingly expensive pension system.

He said that pro-family incentives from the government -- such as government assistance for women who choose to stay home to raise children -- could reverse the problem.

The pope also called on Italy and other wealthy countries to allow for more immigrants from developing countries, a point that attracted a great deal of applause from lawmakers opposed to the strict anti-immigration policies from the center-right government of media tycoon and premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Addressing the expansion of the European Union, which will in 2004 add as many as 10 new members -- including John Paul's native Poland -- the pope said the would-be 25-nation bloc should celebrate its common Christian roots and refer to God in its new constitution, an area of debate among EU members.

The aged pope, whose health has increasingly been a subject of concern, looked stronger than usual during the 40-minute address, which dominated Italian news coverage. Television commentators began discussing the address a full two hours before it started, and newspapers devoted pages to preview coverage of the event.

All seven national television networks used airborne cameras to follow the 20-minute procession from St. Peter's Square to the parliament, discussing the historical significance of buildings passed along the way.

The pope did not address several issues that newspapers had speculated might be mentioned, including proposed EU membership for predominantly Muslim Turkey, calls for a general clemency for prisoners in Italy's crowded prison system, and the separation of church and state, an issue that led at least eight opposition lawmakers to boycott the address.

The address is the fourth parliamentary address for the pontiff, who is the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Before addressing Italian lawmakers, John Paul spoke to the parliaments in Australia, his native Poland and in the tiny republic of San Marino, another microstate completely surrounded by Italian territory.

Copyright 2002 United Press International
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Copyright 2002 United Press International. All rights reserved.