As the EU turns 50 Benedict XVI says Europe could be entering its twilight in history
BY MARK GREAVES
POPE BENEDICT XVI has issued a powerful plea for the European Union to recognise its Christian identity.
He said the denial of Europe's Christian roots was "a form of apostasy" and a betrayal of the continent's own nature.
The Pontiff also declared that a falling birth rate was leading Europe towards "its twilight in history."
He said: "One might even think that the European continent is losing confidence in its future."
His comments came days before Europe's leaders agreed to revive talks on the controversial European constitution. a document that is likely to have no reference to Christianity. He gave the speech on Saturday at a conference in Rome organised to discuss the future of the EU.
The Pontiff told bishops, lay Catholics, members of religious orders and European heads of state that it was "unthinkable" the EU could build a "common European house" while ignoring Europe's identity. "It is a historical, cultural and moral identity even before it is a geographic, economic or political reality. It is an identity built on a set of universal values which Christianity played a role in moulaing," he said.
The Pope argued that if these values were lost Europe would no longer act as a positive force for change in the rest of the world.
Such values constitute Europe's "soul", he said, and if they failed, "how could the 'old' continent play the role of 'yeast' for the whole world?"
In an appeal to the EU to formally acknowledge its Christian heritage the Pontiff said that if the EU wanted to "draw nearerto its citizens "how can they exclude from Europe's identity an essential element like Christianity?
"Even before it is against God, doesn't this singular form of • selfapostasy' not lead the continent to doubt its own identity?" he asked.
In his speech Benedict XVI drew an alarming picture of a Europe that had abandoned essential values and succumbed to a dangerous pragmatism. He also argued that the drift towards secularism and relativism had meant that Christians were "denied the right to intervene in public debates". The Pontiff urged Europe to beware of the kind of pragmatism "that systematically justifies compromising on essential human values as if accepting an allegedly lesser evil were inevitable".
He added: "When on such pragmatism are grafted secular and relativistic tendencies, we end up with Christians as such being denied the right to intervene in public debates or, at the very least, their contribu tion dismissed as an attempt to protect unjustified privileges".
The Pontiff delivered his speech at a conference entitled "Values and Perspectives for Tomorrow's Europe" organised by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.
The conference was intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which led to the creation of the ELI. Its participants included Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, Irish president Mary McAleese and the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering.
Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, spokesman on European affairs for the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, who also attended the conference, said the Pope's speech seemed "a little pessimistic". "It was a short speech," he said, "and perhaps the Holy Father wasn't able to include everything he would have liked.But he repeated the Pontiff's concerns over Europe's falling birth rate. "If you believe in the future you have children." he said. "But if the future is disappearing or one is interested in one's own materialism or individualism that is one part of it."
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