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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
EU Bishops: 'Christianity is a force for unity in Europe'
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¬†The Christian faith has helped unite Europe throughout history and can still be a force for unity today. This was the principal message of the Bishops of COMECE, meeting in Brussels on 30-31 October. The Bishops discussed the work of the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC), which is preparing the EU Constitutional Treaty based on the draft proposed by the European Convention. They were unanimous in welcoming this draft as a whole, taking took note of the way religious questions have been taken into account and welcomed the place that has been reserved for them, notably Article 51. The Bishops from the current and new member states of the EU renewed their call to the participants in the IGC for a reference to Christianity in the preamble of the Treaty. They emphasised the positive value of such a reference for the future of Europe. The recognition of the importance of its Christian roots for Europe is about affirming an historical truth, which would not diminish in any way the contribution of other religious and philosophical traditions, which are also clearly mentioned in the preamble, they said. Referring to Christianity and its importance does not mean in any way that Europe has only one religion. It would not put in question the separation of Church and State nor the neutrality of the EU Institutions, which the Catholic Church unreservedly supports. After the memories left by so many wars and the experience of totalitarian regimes, the Bishops were encouraged by the fact that the Europe of today has become a place where citizens of different convictions ≠ some recognising an ultimate responsibility before God, others referring to an immanent vision of human existence ≠ live together and co-operate for the common good. But they regretted that it was possible to take up this question in the preamble currently under discussion. At a public debate during the Plenary Meeting, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, and Pierre Morel, French Ambassador to the Holy See, discussed "Ecclesia in Europa", Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Europe, published in June. "The role of Christianity in the formation of Europe is an undeniable historical fact", said Danneels. "Anyone who denies this role must be doing it for ideological reasons", he added. "Even if all the values we share in common are not exclusively Christian", he explained, "they have all passed through the mould of Christianity". "The Europe of tomorrow will not be the Europe of the Middle Ages, when the Church technically united Europe", said the Cardinal. "If Christianity succeeds in uniting Europe in the future, it will be because it provides it with a common set of values". France's position on a reference to Christianity in the draft EU Constitution is "not negative, but prudent", said Ambassador Morel. "The request to mention Christianity leads to requests to mention other sources", he explained, "which would mean either enumerating various sources in a way that neutralises the contribution of Christianity or making a selection that would be the subject of endless debate". He said that France welcomed Article 51 of the current draft of the Constitution on the status of Churches and religious organisations, which was "a major advance, without precedent or equivalent in French or European law". Europe and its neighbours The Bishops discussed relations between the EU and its new neighbours following the accession of ten new member states on 1 May 2004. Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President of the European Commission, explained the issues of concern, such as energy and transport, with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova to the east. Ambassador Maurizio Melani, representative of Italy on the EU's Political and Security Committee, discussed the challenges relating to security and cultural dialogue with the countries of the Mediterranean to the south. Michael LEIGH, Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission, presented the Commission's initiative to promote a "Wider Europe" of political stability and economic development. The Bishops welcomed the "Wider Europe" initiative. "The final step in breaking down the Iron Curtain must not lead to a new Iron Curtain ≠ or even "Silver Curtain" ≠ further to the east", they warned. They also expressed the hope that the "Wider Europe" would not mean fixing for ever the borders of the EU. "Even if the neighbouring countries will need a long time to be ready to join the EU, it must be clear that a country such as Ukraine, through its history, culture and religion, belongs in the European family", they said. With regard to the Middle East and North Africa, the Bishops welcomed the Commission's plans to promote a dialogue between cultures and religions. They will ask the Commission to ensure that, with respect for the principle of subsidiarity, the representatives of the three principal monotheistic religions are given their own, autonomous place in this dialogue. In 1995, just before the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Barcelona process), COMECE, together with representatives of other Christian Churches, Jewish and Islamic communities, put forward proposals for such a dialogue at a conference organised by the European Commission in Toledo, Spain. 2004 ≠ an historic year for Europe In April 2004, to mark the accession of ten new member states and the adoption of the EU Constitution, COMECE intends to organise a series of events centred on Santiago de Compostela. During the Plenary Meeting, the Bishops discussed the plans for a pilgrimage on 17-21 April from Santo Domingo de Silos to Santiago, following a route trodden by pilgrims from across Europe for centuries. Around 300 pilgrims, including representatives of different Churches as well as the political institutions of the EU, will travel on foot and by bus through Burgos, Leůn and other towns. On 22-23 April, the Bishops will hold a congress in Santiago on "The responsibility of Catholics and the European project", bringing together theologians, political scientists and other experts. In preparation for this congress, the Bishops published in June this year the consultation paper 'Let us open our hearts'. The events in Santiago will conclude with the Spring Plenary Meeting of COMECE on 24 April, at which delegates of the Bishops' Conferences of the new member states will be formally welcomed as full members of COMECE. COMECE is a commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of the member states of the European Union. The Bishops' Conferences of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland are associate members.
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