Europe's Bishops Urge Defence of Religious Freedom

Note Christian Role in Continental Integration

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BELGRADE, Serbia, FEB. 21, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Several Catholic bishops of Europe recently met with Orthodox, Protestant and Anglican leaders to once again call for the defence of religious liberty, especially of Christians.

The annual meeting of the Joint Committee of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) began Thursday and ended Sunday in Belgrade. It focused on the theme, "National Identity and European Integration: The Contribution of Christians."

In a closing statement, meeting participants affirmed that "religious freedom is a right and a value that every democratic society should be open to promoting and safeguarding."

The statement reported, "In this spirit the members of the joint committee chose to draft and send a letter to Baroness Catherine Ashton, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, asking that the issue of protection of religious freedom and Christian people in the world is tabled at the meeting of foreign ministers of the European Union," planned for today.

The religious leaders "also requested that a clear sign is given regarding decisions on common policies displaying the engagement of the European Union for the defence of religious freedom for those of all faiths throughout the world."

"The reference to the persecution of Christians," they noted, "the urgency of which has been proven by recent events (particularly in the Middle East, in Iraq) cannot be forgotten or buried by abstract and fruitless policies."

The meeting participants asserted, "Western countries where specific relations with areas where persecution exists should show their concrete commitment in protecting all those who are persecuted due to their faith, whichever that faith may be."

Peace

The statement highlighted an affirmation by Božidar Đelić, deputy prime minister and chief of European integration of the Serbian government, who said that "peace requires realism and a focus on issues other than mere economic growth."

The religious leaders added: "It requires that our frame of reference also embraces the question of national identity without allowing it to degenerate into nationalism.

"This is the only way for us to find safe ground where we can open our arms to others without fear of our own destruction."

"Without solidarity and other values," they noted, "the discovery and preservation of which are the result of a pilgrimage of faith, Europe will never be able to reach overall development."

The meeting participants added, "It is correct to say that the economic crisis has in fact placed before countries the challenge of having to choose between protectionism and solidarity."

They affirmed, "We are certain that only when we are sure of our identity are we able to recognize the value of others and the importance of ties promoting mutual assistance."

"As Christians we have a specific contribution to offer in Europe," the religious leaders affirmed.

They continued, "And we hope that ecumenism, as a space where traditions, communities and persons meet, may always be able to grow and to witness the engagement of Christians in their attempt to keep alive the love which make us followers of Jesus, in order that we may become agents in building true peace rooted in the hearts of peoples and nations."

Next year's meeting will take place Jan. 26-29.