To Stay United, Europe Needs a Common Ethic, Says Cardinal

Belgian Explains Christianity’s Contribution to Continent

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MILAN, Italy, FEB. 3, 2004 ( It is vital that Europe draw from its roots «a common moral view» since it has no geographic, idiomatic or cultural factors that unite it, says Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

In an address to delegates of Caritas-Lombardy, gathered here to reflect on «Europe: Between Diversity and Cohesion,» the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel warned against the risk of the Old World neglecting its past and its irreplaceable values, which include Christianity.

The «land of forgetfulness is inhospitable,» said the prelate, who is also president of the Belgian episcopal conference.

Among the difficulties facing Europe today, he said, is «the great risk is to forget our past, because the European memory has values that are irreplaceable.» Such values include «the uniqueness of the human person, solidarity, and love of the poor,» the cardinal told the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

«But neither can Christianity’s specific contribution be forgotten,» he continued. «And for us, to reaffirm it cannot simply mean to propose a package of ideas or a code of norms: It is to proclaim the living Christ, a person who can be loved, imitated and worshipped.»

Cardinal Danneels participated in the two special assemblies, in 1991 and 1999, of the synod of bishops dedicated to Europe.

Europe must be given an ethic «that goes beyond the criterion of simple justice … to put in circulation a certain superabundance of generosity,» the cardinal said. «It is to live a service to one’s neighbor that goes beyond philanthropy, because it is rooted in Jesus’ words ‘You did it to me.'»

«It is this specificity that, as Christians, we can contribute to the building of a common ethos of the continent,» he said.

«It is decisive to have an ethos, a common moral view, a certain sense of man and of the humanity that brings us together,» the cardinal added. «If we do not rediscover that common ethical foundation which Guardini already referred to when speaking of European man, we have no objective reason to be together.»

In this context, «the East can give much to Europe,» he said, referring to the forthcoming entry in the European Union of 10 new countries, which are mainly from that area.

«I am thinking of our profoundly secularized regions, where not to believe is already considered normal,» the cardinal said. «Countries such as Poland can bring a wind of freshness, of new vigor of the faith.»

The question of Islam is also among the challenges facing Europe. To «be European,» Islam must be able to distinguish between state and religion, the cardinal pointed out. «In today’s Europe, an Islam that does not practice this distinction is impossible.»

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