Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday marked Italy’s 150th birthday by praising the role Christianity played in forging its national identity — even though Italy’s unification spelled the end of the papal states.

Benedict issued a conciliatory message to all Italians, making clear that while there were conflicts in the past between the Catholic Church and Italian state, the two now shared a “precious collaboration” for which the Holy See was grateful.

And he highlighted the role Catholic thinkers, artists and writers played in forging the new country, even though Catholics until 1905 were forbidden by the pope, under pain of excommunication, to hold public office or vote in national elections.

“Christianity has contributed in a fundamental way to building an Italian identity through the work of the church,” Benedict wrote, citing in particular such church-commissioned artists as Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Bernini.

Continue Reading on www.washingtonpost.com