PUY-EN-VELAY, France, March 4, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made headlines in France by returning to a theme once common with him, but that he seemed to have abandoned: the importance of France’s Christian heritage.

Speaking before a crowd of dignitaries in the ancient town of Puy-en-Velay, a key location in the history of French religious devotion, Sarkozy vigorously defended the importance of the Christian contribution to the cultural foundations of France.

“Christianity has left to us a magnificent heritage. I am the president of a secular republic, but I can say this because it is the truth.  I am not proselytizing,” he told the group.

“In ascending soon the steps that lead to the choir of the Cathedral of Puy-en-Velay, as millions of people have done before me for almost ten centuries, I am very moved and I have been, like them, taken by the smiling majesty of this immense relic of stone coming to meet me,” said Sarkozy, referring to Puy-en-Velay’s most important architectural monument.

He went on to add that “Chartres, Amiens, Reims, Strasbourg, Paris, none of these towns would be today what it is in the eyes of French and the eyes of the rest of the world without these cathedrals on which the faithful and tourists always converge.”

“This heritage, my dear compatriots, obligates us.  This heritage is an opportunity, but it is first of all a duty.  We are obligated by this heritage.  It obligates us because not only do we have the duty to transmit it to the generations that succeed us, but we must assume it, this heritage, without a complex and without false modesty,” said Sarkozy, calling it the “living testimony of the support of Christianity to our civilization.”

“To not concern ourselves with our heritage, is to betray the history of our country. Protecting our heritage is protecting the heritage of France, it is to defend the most tangible signs of our identity. I often recall Levi-Strauss: ‘Identity is not a pathology.” he added.

The French president also acknowledged the cultural contributions of other groups to French society, including Jews, Muslims, and secularists, and insisted that recognizing a French cultural identity was not hostile to the cultural diversity of the society, but rather necessary to give it meaning.

“I would like to say that without identity, there is no diversity, that at the origin of diversity there are identities and that it does not give evidence of closure but rather of believing in one’s identity to enable one to better share with the identities of others.  But if one does not believe in one’s own identity, how can one share with that of others and how can one receive the identities of others?” he asked.

Sarkozy’s speech hearkens back to themes he emphasized in his run for the presidency of France in 2007.  In the years following, his emphasis on the importance of Christianity seemed to be lost in his second divorce and remarriage, charges of nepotism regarding his son, and other scandals that have rocked his administration. A recent poll found that Sarkozy’s approval rating has fallen to just 22%.