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Catholic lawmakers gather in Mexico

Breaking a century-old taboo against mixing politics and religion, a group of Catholic lawmakers gathered for a Mass to honour St Thomas More, the newly named patron saint of politicians.

By tradition - and law - Mexico's elected officials are barred from attending religious functions in an official capacity. But Norberto Rivera, Mexico's top cardinal who celebrated the Mass, has publicly urged politicians not to be afraid to profess their faith.

"Man can't separate himself from God just as the political cannot be separated from the moral," Rivera told about 80 congressmen and senators from Mexico's three largest political parties on Thursday. "Your lives show us that the government is, above all else, an exercise in virtues."

Most of the lawmakers in attendance were quick to say they came as private citizens and were therefore not violating laws separating church and state. To emphasise the point, many came with their wives and children.

Labour Secretary Carlos Abascal was the only member of President Vicente Fox's cabinet to attend. Abascal has drawn political fire for using his office for religious purposes, recently incensing critics when he tried to have some of the books his daughter read in school banned on moral and religious grounds. And Fox's conservative National Action Party is considered to have an allegiance with the Catholic Church.

The Mass was the first with political overtones since the early 1850s, archdiocesan spokesman Gerardo Lopez said.

Rivera urged Mexico's politicians to follow St. Thomas More's example and remain faithful to the church's principles.

Pope John Paul II named More the patron saint of politicians in October.