“The Church and the Council of Europe share together the same concerns about the current increase in the cases of violation of freedom of religion in European nations which often result in real and genuine acts of violence, extremism, discrimination, in particular towards Christians”. The claim is contained in the final statement of the meeting of nine Presidents of the Bishops´ Conferences of South-east Europe, namely, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, the International Bishops’ Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and Turkey, along with the Maronite Archbishop of Cyprus and the Bishop of Chisinau (Rep. Moldova), held in Strasbourg (March 5-7), in the premises of the Council of Europe (CoE). The prelates accepted the invitation of the Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe, Msgr. Aldo Giordano, “to meet in Strasbourg to deepen their knowledge of European institutions”, “to discuss and share with officials from Strasbourg’s institutions the mutual concern for the true spiritual, political and social good of the peoples of the continent”.
Religious freedom. “These phenomena –the bishops write in the declaration– weaken the stability of European societies and undermine the right of every citizen to choose and freely practice their own religion. In this regard, the Church hopes that the Council may more and more be a promoter of the protection of the freedom of religion”. The bishops “examined carefully the Council of Europe’s renewed interest in the religious dimension of its citizens. The role of religion appears to be emerging more and more, not as a cause of problems, but as an advocate of social cohesion”. For some years, the Council of Europe has in fact carried out a dialogue with the continent’s religious communities. The bishops “applauded the Council’s desire to make this dialogue regular, while also expressing some reservations and concerns about the effectiveness of the meetings between religious communities and convictions very different between themselves”.
Public relevance of religions. The final statement highlights the public relevance of religions as demonstrated by the “considerable increase in recourse to issues connected to the religious dimensions which have come to the European Court of Human Rights”. These are “recourses varying from the possibility to express publicly one’s own adherence and religious conviction, to the legal recognition of religious bodies, especially of the Catholic Church in numerous countries of South-east Europe”. Thereby the bishops acknowledge “the importance of accompanying the work of the European officials, safeguarding in particular that their legislating is always inspired by shared and recognised values”.
Reconciliation, life and the family. “Reconciliation, in charity and justice”, remains a concern and a “priority, which the Churches of South-east Europe must pursue and promote”. It is aimed not only at “forgiveness for a past of division and conflict, but must be aimed at co-operation”. During the debates CoE representatives were asked several questions such as: the possibility that as yet unborn life might receive the same attention and have the same possibility of being defended as every other person receives; the right and defence of the family”.
A “Mass for Europe”. In Strasbourg the bishops met Council officers, including General Director of Programmes, Ms Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni; Judge Jean-Paul Costa, former President of the European Court of Human Rights; the President of the Venice Commission, Dr. Gianni Buquicchio; Dr. Giovanni Battista Celiento, Senior Evaluator; and Dr. László Surján, Vice-president of the European Parliament. The Council of Europe, which came about in 1949, is the continent’s oldest political organisations and it plays an important role in the process of European unification, supporting the values of human rights, democracy and the primacy of law (rule of law). Today, the Council is experiencing a period of great reforms, once again putting the fundamental values of its constitution at the heart of its activity. On March 7 the Presidents participated in the Mass for Europe, organised by the Holy See’s Permanent Mission in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Strasbourg. The main celebrant was the local Archbishop, Jean-Pierre Grallet, and the homily was delivered by the Permanent Observer, Msgr. Aldo Giordano.