Being Christians in Europe

A hope and an appeal in Benedict XVI's message

The hope that also “in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians” is expressed by Benedict XVI in his Message for the Celebration of the 44th World Day of Peace (1st January 2011). The Message has the significant title: “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace”. It was presented in the Vatican Press Room on 16 December. Meanwhile, on 10 December, on the occasion of the “Meeting on Freedom of Religion” promoted in Vienna by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe presented its Report on “Facts and Personages relating to the recent and growing phenomenon of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe”. The issue of discrimination against Christians in our continent was also at the centre of the press conference for the presentation of the pontifical message.No to hostility and prejudice against Christians. After having condemned every form of violence and persecution against Christians in the world, Benedict XVI, in his Message for the World Day of Peace 2011, also expresses the hope that “in the West, and especially in Europe, there will be an end to hostility and prejudice against Christians because they are resolved to orient their lives in a way consistent with the values and principles expressed in the Gospel”. The Pope then makes a fervent appeal: “May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history; in this way it will come to experience justice, concord and peace by cultivating a sincere dialogue with all peoples”. Intervening at the press conference, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, observed that “religious freedom is not limited to the free exercise of worship. It has a public dimension, which enables believers to make their contribution to the construction of the social order” and recalled in this regard “the four architects of the European Union (Adenauer, De Gasperi, Schuman, Monnet)”.Secularism and cynicism. “Secularism, which is most widespread in the Western countries – pointed out Mgr. Mario Toso, Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace – goes so far as to reject religious pluralism and a positive ‘laicity’. It does so by rejecting not only Christianity, but any other religion or tradition, in the attempt to promote a radical emancipation of man from God”. In Europe, he continued, “the marginalization, for example, of the Christian God or the often mentioned ‘Christian roots’ is not the expression of a superior tolerance that respects all religions in an equal way, so as not to privilege any, but is on the contrary the fundamentalization of a position that is opposed to any religious credo and culture” and “in some cases, unfortunately, this is taken to the extremity of cynicism”. According to Mgr. Toso, “opposition to religious signs, or, rather, to Christianity, which is in the last analysis opposition to Jesus Christ, may take as a pretext respect for Muslims, though they are less wounded in their religious feelings by a possible insertion of the ‘Christian roots’ in the European Constitution than they are scandalized by a secularized culture that repudiates its own foundations”. A subtle intolerance. “There now exist actual dossiers – underlined the Secretary of the Pontifical Council – that testify to discrimination not only against the religions ‘imported’ by immigrants, but also against Christianity in Europe, a region that is nevertheless still recognized as having a Christian majority. More often than not this is a subtle, an insidious, almost an invisible form of intolerance, concerning freedom of conscience and of expression” which “is expressed in acts of vandalism against churches and cemeteries, in partiality in places of work and schools, and in the removal of religious symbols”. “With regard to these latter – he continued – the recent ruling of the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in 2009, relating to the request for the removal of the Crucifix in Italian classrooms, is symptomatic”. According to Mgr. Toso, “all this confirms the cultural crisis in our continent. Europe appears to be the victim of an identity crisis, a split personality, which prejudices her future and creates a thousand difficulties in relations with ‘imported’ religions” because “a schizophrenic subject – as the science of psychology teaches us – is unable to adjust or relate to the external world”.

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