Christianity a Force for European Unity, Bishops Say

At the Conclusion of Their Meeting in Brussels

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, OCT. 31, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Christian faith has helped to unite Europe throughout history and can still be a force for unity, says the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.



COMECE issued that key message after its two-day meeting in Brussels ended today. 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.

The bishops welcomed this draft as a whole. "They consider that a positive conclusion of the IGC is not only desirable but possible," the final press statement said.

"They took note of the way in which religious questions have been taken into account in the draft and welcomed the place that has been reserved for them," the document adds, published by COMECE.

Yet, "the bishops from the current and new member states of the European Union renewed their call to the participants in the IGC for a reference to Christianity in the preamble of the treaty," the statement says.

"They emphasized the positive value of such a reference for the future of Europe," it continues. "The recognition of the importance of its Christian roots for Europe is about affirming a 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.

"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."

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," John Paul II's apostolic exhortation on the Church in Europe.

"The role of Christianity in the formation of Europe is an undeniable historical fact," said Cardinal Danneels. "Anyone who denies this role must be doing it for ideological reasons. Even if all the values we share in common are not exclusively Christian, 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," the cardinal continued. "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, which would mean either enumerating various sources in a way that neutralizes the contribution of Christianity or making a selection that would be the subject of endless debate," he explained.

The ambassador added that France welcomed Article 51 of the current draft of the Constitution on the status of churches and religious organizations, which he said was "a major advance, without precedent or equivalent in French or European law."

COMECE is a commission of the Catholic bishops' conferences of the member states of the European Union. The conferences of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland are associate members.