.- Benedict XVI received cardinals, bishops, parliamentarians and other participants in a congress promoted by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), on Friday. The event is being held to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957.
The Pope recalled how over these fifty years the continent has travelled a long journey leading "to the reconciliation of the two 'lungs,' East and West, joined by a shared history and arbitrarily separated by a curtain of injustice." And he referred to the search, "still painstakingly underway, for an adequate institutional structure for the European Union, which ... aspires to be a global player."
Benedict XVI noted how Europe has sought to conciliate "the economic and social dimensions through policies aimed at producing wealth, ... yet without overlooking the legitimate expectations of the poor and marginalized. However, in demographic terms, it must unfortunately be noted that Europe seems set on a path that could lead to its exit from history."
"It could almost be imagined that the European continent is actually losing faith in its own future," said the Holy Father, and he recalled how in some fields such as "respect for the environment" or "access to energy resources and investments, solidarity finds scant incentives, in both the international and the national fields." Moreover, "the process of European unification is clearly not shared by everyone," because "various 'chapters' of the European project were 'written' without taking adequate account of the wishes of citizens.
"What emerges from all this," he added, "is that it is unthinkable to create an authentic 'common European home' while ignoring the identity of the people of our continent. ... An identity that is historical, cultural and moral, more even than geographical, economic or political; an identity made up of a collection of universal values which Christianity contributed to creating, thus acquiring a role that is not only historical but foundational for the continent of Europe."
"If, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the governments of the EU wish to 'get closer' to their citizens, how can they exclude such an essential element of European identity as Christianity, in which a vast majority of that people continue to identify themselves? Is it not surprising that modern Europe, while seeking to present itself as a community of values, seems ever more frequently to question the very existence of universal and absolute values? And does this singular form of 'apostasy' - from oneself even more than from God - not perhaps induce Europe to doubt its own identity?
"In this way," he added, "we end up by spreading the conviction that the 'balance of interests' is the only way to moral discernment, and that the common good is a synonym of compromise. In reality, although compromise can be a legitimate balance between varying individual interests," it is bad "whenever it leads to agreements that harm the nature of man."
"For this reason it is becoming ever more indispensable for Europe to avoid the pragmatic approach, so widespread today, that systematically justifies compromise on essential human values, as if the acceptance of a supposedly lesser evil were inevitable. ... When such pragmatism involves laical and relativist trends and tendencies, Christians end up being denied the right to participate as Christians in public debate or, at the least, their contribution is disqualified with the accusation of seeking to protect unjustified privileges."
Benedict XVI went on to affirm that at this moment in history the European Union, "in order to be a valid guarantor of the State of law and an effective promoter of universal values, must clearly recognize the definite existence of a stable and permanent human nature." This nature is "the source of rights shared by all individuals, including the very people who seek to deny them. In such a context protection must be afforded to conscientious objection" in cases where "fundamental human rights are violated."
"I know how difficult it is for Christians to defend this truth. ... But do not tire and do not be discouraged! You know your task is to contribute to building, with God's help, a new Europe, realistic but not cynical, rich in ideals and free of naive illusions, inspired by the perennial and life-giving truth of the Gospel."