From the treaties of Rome to the Constituional Reform TreatyFriday, September 14th, 2007
Full text of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's address a the Pontifical Theological Academy, Krakow, Poland on the 14th September 2007
The future of Europe requires that Europe has a strong sense of its identity. A lack of cohesion, or even worse, a strong sense of disillusionment, could weaken the manner in which the citizens of Europe feel that they have ownership of the Europe of the future.
Europe changes; yet Europe remains Europe. Pope John Paul II played a remarkable role in reminding Europeans that the borders of post-Yalta Europe were not true to what Europe was really about. Today and tomorrow we all have to be vigilant to protect Europe from reductionist ideologies which would foster visions of Europe not true to its history or to the sentiments of its population. Christians have a special responsibility not just to speak about Europe’s Christian roots in the past, but also to ensure that Europe’s future – with all its pluralism - will benefit from a vibrant Christian contribution.
1. Ideology versus facts
To talk about the contribution of Christianity to the formation of a European identity is not to talk about ideology but to talk about a fact, a fact which cannot be denied. As Cardinal Walter Kasper pointed out in Sibiu earlier this week:
“Christianity is a decisive root of Europe. Without Christianity Europe would not have become Europe. Christianity belongs to European identity. One would need just to travel once from Gibraltar to Estonia in order to experience what keeps Europe together. One would encounter the most varied peoples and a variety of languages, but everywhere one would encounter the Cross and, at the heart of old cities, Cathedrals. To doubt the Christian roots of Europe is to fly in the face of all historical evidence”
The historical evidence for the Christian contribution Europe’s history is so clearly established that we may well ask why its recognition in the proposed European Constitution should have been a subject of such controversy.
Ultimately, it may be that at the heart of the controversy was a debate not about history but about the present, about the place of Christianity and Christian communities in contemporary Europe. The strident opposition in certain quarters can only be explained by a desire by some to consolidate a particular vision of a “secularized Europe” where religion would be totally privatized, indeed marginalized.
2. In the interests of Europe:
The argument for the inclusion in the Constitution of a reference to a Christian heritage was proposed not just for the sake of historical accuracy but as a statement about the on-going openness of Europe to the contribution of Christians and the values they seek to embody in their economic, social and political activities. As the late Pope John Paul II pointed out to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See in January 2003:
“A Europe which disavowed its past, which denied the fact of religion, and which had no spiritual dimension would be extremely impoverished in the face of the ambitious project which calls upon all its energies: constructing a Europe for all!”
In advocating for the recognition of the role of Christianity in the forging of a European identity – a role characterized by Pope Benedict as not merely historical but foundational – Christians are concerned not just for their own particular interests but in ensuring that the new Europe which is emerging is truly welcoming of the contribution of believers and that Europe will have the benefit of their energies and commitment. As Pope Benedict said, addressing the European Peoples Party, in March 2006:
“by valuing its Christian roots, Europe will be able to give a secure direction to the choices of its citizens and peoples, it will strengthen their awareness of belonging to a common civilization and it will nourish the commitment of all to address the challenges of the present for the sake of a better future”.
This is particularly important when we consider the great significance that was attached to the creation of a Constitution for the European Union. One of Britain’s best known constitutional theorists has long argued that
“a Constitution is something more than a selection of supreme legal rules. It is often, and sometimes first, a political manifesto or creed or testament. As such, it can be argued, it evokes the respect and affection and, indeed, obedience of the people in a way which no exhaustively legal document can hope to do”.
At an even more foundational level, the reference to its Christian roots would have ensured that the great European project could not be viewed solely as a political or economic achievement without reference to the moral and religious aspirations of many of its founders. It could have ensured that there will be no “forgetfulness of God” in Europe and that we might escape the loss of hope and values that typically accompanies such forgetfulness.
Pope John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Europa, spoke forcefully about the significance of a vision of Europe not open to address the question of God:
“at the root of this loss of hope is an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ.
This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as ‘the absolute centre of reality, a view which makes him occupy – falsely – the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man’.
It is therefore ‘no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism – and even a cynical hedonism – in daily life’. European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy” on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist”.
3. Looking to the future
Let us look to the future. While never relenting on the need to foster an understanding in contemporary culture of the historical contribution of Christianity to European identity, we have today to face the challenge of ensuring that we prepare new generations of Christians who can with competence and idealism be truly at the heart of the European project, alongside persons of different viewpoints but fully inspired by their Christian vision.
A Constitution can only play its part, no matter how significant that may be. Looking toward to the future, we have to remind ourselves that, while respecting the role of politics in the broad sense, the Church has its own responsibilities to ensure that the contribution of believers to the building of Europe is truly a vibrant and strong one.
It was part of the great genius of Pope John Paul II that he never shirked from identifying the challenge to the Church to continually renew itself in order to live its mission of service.
This is part of the Church’s responsibility for the evangelization of culture. In Germany in 1996, Pope John Paul noted that:
“The new evangelization is therefore the order of the day. This does not mean the ‘restoration’ of a past age. Rather it is necessary to risk taking new steps. Together we must again proclaim the joyful and liberating message of the gospel to the people of Europe... in order to create a civilization in which the true human values transmitted by the Christian faith have a permanent place”.
This challenge to the Church in Europe exists for each local Church in the different nations that constitute Europe. In Ireland, we are confronted, for perhaps the first time, with the need for a first proclamation of the Gospel to sizeable numbers who have never heard of Christ. This is a proclamation will take the form of a sharing with them by word and by example the good news revealed by Jesus of a God who loves people unconditionally and who calls all people to unity.
Even more urgent, and this may come as a surprise to those whose image of Ireland may have been shaped by its past, is a renewed proclamation for those already baptized. Unfortunately, much of what Pope John Paul had to say about Europe in general is equally true of the situation in Ireland today: Many Europeans today think they know what Christianity is, yet they do not really know it at all. Often they are lacking in knowledge of the most basic elements and notions of the faith. Many of the baptized live as if Christ did not exist.
The particular challenge in Ireland is to help many nominal Catholics, including some who notwithstanding regular attendance in church have never reflected personally on the faith they have assimilated through societal and familial influence, to know who Jesus is.
In Dublin, we are beginning this process through the renewal of parish structures. The aim has been to draw into the life and mission of the parish a new generation of lay leaders who will be able to bring the Good News to the communities where they live. I hope to see a particular attention to young people, and to the evangelization of young people by young people.
A next step will be to ensure an adequate and appropriately articulated proclamation of the Gospel and of the central teachings of Christianity in those centers of cultural and intellectual formation where the ideas and policies that will shape our country are being forged.
I am confident that we will be greatly assisted in this task by the availability of the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church and of a companion publication specifically prepared for Ireland which I will launch next week.
In renewing our Church and in committing ourselves to a new evangelization, we are both being faithful to the mission of the Church - evangelizing is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity – and we are helping to construct a new Europe. In another memorable passage, Pope John Paul reminded us that the values that have served to inspire much that is most noble in our European tradition will only flourish if they are nourished by the Gospel and we overcome a situation in which:
the great values which amply inspired European culture have been separated from the Gospel, thus losing their very soul.
No one should fear the message of the Gospel. No one should try to suppress the contribution that that Gospel has brought to the evolution of Europe and can bring to create a future Europe at the service of hope for all.