Holy See on the New Europe (Part 1)

Interview With Vatican Secretary for Relations with States

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of an interview that Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican secretary for relations with states, granted to the Italian newspaper La Stampa last Friday.

The occasion for the interview was the signing of the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. Part 2 of this interview appears Wednesday.

Q: The Vatican’s request to mention the Christian roots of the continent in the preamble of the Constitution was rejected. Do you think that this decision confirms the emergence in Europe of an anti-Christian prejudice of a secular character?

Archbishop Lajolo: Mention of the Christian roots of Europe in the preamble of the Constitutional Treaty was intensely desired by many Christians of this continent — Catholics, Orthodox and evangelicals. It could not endanger, as some feared, secularism — the healthy secularism! — of the political structure.

It was necessary, on the contrary, to keep alive the awareness of the concrete historical identity of Europe and of its values which can never be given up. If the new «old Europe» hopes to carry out in the coming years a role worthy of its past, it cannot be content with vague reminiscences, but will have to be conscious of that which has specifically traced its spiritual physiognomy.

More than anti-Christian prejudice — which is not surprising — one is astonished by the cultural myopia, because to speak of Christian roots does not mean ideological limitation, but rather remembrance of the ferment produced in the history of Europe, and from Europe disseminated worldwide, remembrance of the greatest revolution of the spirit that humanity has known; it does not mean to hope for the return of seasons that have passed, but to hope for a new humanism, which will not lose its vigor because of relativism, or remain sterilized by technology; to hope for a new humanism which will naturally respect and be open to other cultures, and furthermore, oriented to a new and loftier form of civilization.

Q: There are ongoing discussions in Europe on the opportunity to enlarge the Union to include Turkey. On one hand, this decision might weaken the cultural unity of our continent, precisely at a time in which the latter seems to be losing its color in a generic relativism. On the other hand, the Muslim world could be given an important example of integration and rejection of the so-called clash of civilizations. In this connection, what is the position of the Holy See?

Archbishop Lajolo: I don’t think the Holy See has expressed until now an official position. Of course, it holds that, in case of adherence, Turkey must respond to all the political criteria set forth in the Copenhagen Summit of December 2002.

In regard to the Church in Turkey, the Holy See holds that religious freedom in that country not only must be guaranteed at the level of the Constitution, legislation and administration, but must also be effectively protected in the concrete aspects of the social fabric.

You have mentioned some positive and negative aspects to Turkey’s admission: You express that what is at stake here is of transcendental relevance and it is, therefore, very understandable that some European governments want to be supported in their decision by a referendum.

In any case, the Holy See is not afraid of an enlargement of Europe. John Paul II has spoken on occasions of a Europe united from the Atlantic to the Urals. It is critical that the new Europe have a profound inner cohesion.

In this connection, for example, it seems to me that more attention should be paid to states that are already candidates, such as Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, as well as Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, countries that have an old and great culture.

And the list could continue with other states of the Balkans, such as Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania, which Europe cannot do without, and to which the Holy See also feels very close.

Q: In Spain, the decisions of the Zapatero government have given rise to accusations of anti-Catholic prejudices. Do you think that also in that country, of profound religious traditions, there is a risk of an attack on the values of Catholicism?

Archbishop Lajolo: In a very short time the new Spanish government has promulgated or has on reserve measures concerning the condition of the teaching of the Catholic religion in schools, divorce, homosexual unions, abortion, assisted fertilization, which without a doubt are opposed not only to the values of Catholicism, but of the great tradition of Christian humanism of the Spanish people.

Political wisdom is also being able to take into account the profound religious convictions of a people or, at least, of the majority. This has not happened in Spain.

Spanish Catholics have not failed to raise their voices and, they will certainly not let themselves be intimidated by press campaigns or opinion polls. They are also ready to undertake a serious and constructive dialogue.

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