Europe’s rejection of its traditional Christian identity is leading to its imminent disappearance from the world stage, Pope Benedict XVI said in an address to a congress of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) on March 24.
“What emerges from all this,” he said, “is that it is unthinkable to create an authentic ‘common European home’ while ignoring the identity of the people of our continent. . . . An identity that is historical, cultural and moral, more even than geographical, economic or political; an identity made up of a collection of universal values which Christianity contributed to creating, thus acquiring a role that is not only historical but foundational for the continent of Europe.”
“If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the EU wish to ‘get closer’ to their citizens, how can they exclude such an essential element of European identity as Christianity, in which a vast majority of that people continue to identify themselves? Is it not surprising that modern Europe, while seeking to present itself as a community of values, seems ever more frequently to question the very existence of universal and absolute values? And does this singular form of ‘apostasy’from oneself even more than from Godnot perhaps induce Europe to doubt its own identity?”
While compromise may be a legitimate method of achieving balance between competing individual interests, he said, it is destructive “whenever it leads to agreements that harm the nature of man.”
“For this reason it is becoming ever more indispensable for Europe to avoid the pragmatic approach, so widespread today, that systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if the acceptance of a supposedly lesser evil were inevitable. . .. When such pragmatism involves laical and relativist trends and tendencies, Christians end up being denied the right to participate as Christians in public debate or, at the least, their contribution is disqualified with the accusation of seeking to protect unjustified privileges.”
The Pope called on the EU to “clearly recognize the definite existence of a stable and permanent human nature,” that forms “the source of rights shared by all individuals, including the very people who seek to deny them. In such a context protection must be afforded to conscientious objection”, in situations where “fundamental human rights are violated.”
Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered last Saturday to the participants in a conference organized by European bishops’ conferences to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
The conference was entitled “50th Anniversary of the Treaty of RomeValues and prospects for tomorrow’s Europe.”
* * *
AUDIENCE WITH THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE CONGRESS PROMOTED BY THE COMMISSION OF THE BISHOPS’ CONFERENCES OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY (COMECE)
Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, March 24, 2007
Cardinals, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Honorable Parliamentarians, Kind Ladies and Sirs!
I am particularly happy to receive such a large number of persons in this audience, which is taking place on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, dated March 25, 1957.
An important step was taken then for Europe, exhausted by the Second World War and desiring to build a future of peace and greater economic and social well-being, without dissolving or denying the different national identities.
I welcome Monsignor Andrianus Herman van Luyn, bishop of Rotterdam, president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, and I thank him for his kind words to me.
I greet the other prelates, the distinguished authorities and all those taking part in the convention promoted these days by the COMECE to reflect on Europe. Since March of about fifty years ago, this continent has been on a long road, which has led to the reconciliation of two “lungs”the East and the Westtied together by a common history, but arbitrarily separated by a wall of injustice.
Economic integration stimulated political integration and encouraged the search, still ongoing, for an institutional structure adequate for a European Union that, by now, numbers 27 nations and aspires to becoming a global actor in the world.
During these years, the need to establish a healthy equilibrium between the economic and social dimensions has been felt more and more, through politics capable of producing wealth and increasing competition, without however omitting the legitimate expectations of the poor and the marginalized. But looking at the demographic side of things, we must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be walking along a path that could lead to its departure from history.
Apart from endangering economic growth, this could create enormous difficulties for social cohesion and, above all, favor dangerous individualism, oblivious to the consequences for the future. One could almost think that the European continent is in fact losing faith in its own future. Furthermore, as regards respect for the environment, for example, or the ordered access to energy resources and investments, incentives for solidarity are slow in coming, not only in the international sphere but also in the strictly national one.
The process itself of European unification is evidently not shared by all, due to the impression that various “chapters” in the European project have been “written” without considering the expectations of the citizens. From all this it is clear that a true European “common house” cannot be built without considering the identities of the people on our continent.
This identity is in fact a historical, cultural, and moral identity before it is a geographic, economic, or political one; an identity constituted by an ensemble of universal values that Christianity contributed to forging and which thus gave to Christianity not only an historical but a foundational role for Europe.
These values, which make up the soul of the continent, must remain in the Europe of the third millennium as “ferment” for civilization. If in fact these values should disappear, how could the “old” continent continue to function as “leaven” for the entire world? If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the Union wish to “be nearer” to their citizens, how can they exclude an element essential to European identity such as Christianity, when a vast majority continues to identify with it?
Is it not surprising that today’s Europe, while hoping to be seen as a community of values, more and more seems to contest that universal and absolute values exist? Does not this unique form of “apostasy” from itself, before even from God, lead to doubts about its identity?
In this way, one ends up spreading the conviction that the “weighing of goods” is the only way to moral discernment and that common good is synonymous with compromise. In reality, if compromise constitutes a legitimate equilibrium between different particular interests, it becomes a common evil every time it is made up of agreements damaging the nature of man.
A community built without respecting the true dignity of the human being, forgetting that each person is created in the image of God, ends up not doing good for anybody. This is why it is necessary for Europe to be on guard against this pragmatic attitude, widespread today, which systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if it was the inevitable acceptance of a minor evil.
This pragmatism, presented as balanced and realistic, at bottom is not, because it denies the dimension of values and ideals inherent to human nature. When atheistic and relativistic tendencies are woven into this pragmatism, in the end Christians as such are denied the very right to enter into the public discussion or, at the very least, their contribution is disqualified.
During this actual historical moment and faced with many challenges that mark it, the European Union, to be a valid guarantor of the state of rights and an efficient promoter of universal values, cannot but recognize with clarity the certain existence of a stable and permanent human nature, source of common rights for all individuals, including those who deny them. In this context, the right to conscientious objection should be protected, every time fundamental human rights are violated.
Dear friends, I know how difficult it is for Christians to strenuously defend this truth about the person. However do not tire of this and do not be discouraged! You know that you have the duty to contribute to building with God’s help a new Europe, realistic but not cynical, rich in ideals and free of naïve illusions, inspired by the perennial and life-giving truth of the Gospel.
Therefore, you must be present in an active way in the public debate on a European level, knowing that this debate is now an integral part of the national debate, and along with this commitment there must be effective cultural action. Do not bend to the logic of power as an end in itself!
May Christ’s admonition be a constant stimulus and support for you: “If the salt loses its flavor (…) It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
May the Lord make your every effort productive and help you to recognize and esteem the positive elements present in today’s civilization, but denouncing with courage all that is contrary to human dignity.
I am sure that God will bless the generous effort by all who, in a spirit of service, work to build a common European house where every cultural, social and political contribution is directed toward the common good.
To you, already involved in different ways in this important human and evangelical project, I express my support and my most fervent encouragement. Above all, I assure you that I will remember you in prayer and, while I call upon the maternal protection of Mary, Mother of the Word made Flesh, I affectionately bless you and your families and communities from the heart.