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World bows to false idols of power, money: Pope

Paris, September 13, 2008

Pope Benedict told a huge crowd on Saturday that many in the modern world had turned money, possessions and power into idols that are as false as those worshipped by the pagans of antiquity.

On his second day in Paris, the pope celebrated a mass for more than 250,000 people people around Paris' Invalides, a complex of military buildings begun by Louis XIV in the 17th century and which houses the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The exuberant crowd, many young people who spent the night outdoors and marched from Notre Dame during the night, waved yellow and white Vatican flags as Benedict arrived in a bullet-proof popemobile to say mass from a tall platform.

In his homily, Benedict, who arrived on Friday for a four-day trip, pursued a theme dear to him: the need to inject lasting spiritual and religious values into a modern society that often seemed enamoured of things material and fleeting.

"Has not our modern world created its own idols?" he said, recalling ancient pagans who worshipped gold and silver statues.

"Has it not imitated, perhaps inadvertently, the pagans of antiquity, by diverting man from his true end, from the joy of living eternally with God," he said, wearing gold, white and red vestments and speaking fluent French.

He quoted the writings of St Paul saying "money is the root of all evil" and added in his own words: "Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?"

Towards the end of the Mass, more than a thousand priests dressed in white cassocks fanned out among the crowd with altar boys bearing while and yellow umbrellas to distribute communion to the faithful.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a Catholic, attended the mass, Benedict's last event in the French capital before he moves on to the shrine city of Lourdes for the rest of the trip.

Since he arrived on Friday the pope has been banging the drum about what some see as a resurgence of Catholic identity in France where "laicite", the separation of church and state, is part of the national psyche.

Traditionally Catholic, France maintains a strict tradition of secularism. The French church struggles with a shortage of priests and Sunday mass attendance is below 10 percent.

But religion has re-emerged as a factor in public life, especially because of the growth of Islam, and French Catholics have increasingly spoken out on social issues.

"It's a very good thing that lots of young people are here because it gives a more dynamic image of the church," said Beatrice de la Bellier, who attended the mass with all four of her children.

"People always underestimate the numbers who turn out for these events but the Church in France is very strong. Benedict has a very different style from John Paul. His thoughts are more structured. He is a real theologian. The sheer numbers here show, however, that he has connected with the people," she said.

In his battle to re-inject religious values into France's and Europe's public life, Benedict has found an unlikely ally in French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is twice divorced and married to Italian-born singer and former supermodel Carla Bruni.

Sarkozy, who has broken a political taboo by speaking openly and positively about the role of religion in society. In his speech to the pope on Friday Sarkozy said it would be "folly" for France to ignore its long history of Christian thought. - Reuters




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