Europe in search of its identity
In this paper I would like to relate about a few aspects of this debate, taking advantage of the contributions by Silvio Ferrari, and Pietro De Marco, about a dream that also belongs to Pope Wojtyla: the acknowledgment of the Christian roots of modern politics.
Europe, Secularity and Christianity
This distinction implies that religion may inspire political choices, but does not constitute its direct and immediate justification: even the most delicate choices (one thinks of abortion and euthanasia) cannot be motivated on the political level with the affirmation “God wants it that way.” It is completely legitimate to maintain that abortion and euthanasia violate divine law and thus commit oneself to preventing their legalization, but in the political realm, this argument alone is not enough. One must prove the sound foundations of one’s convictions and choices, adding arguments that demonstrate their reasonableness. In this perspective, secularism presents itself as the platform for a “democracy by argument” where an exchange among various political choices takes place.
This idea of political secularism alone would be enough to distinguish Europe from other continents, civilizations, and cultures. But I believe that it’s possible to go even further. The exchange among various political alternatives that constitutes the secularity of the state is founded on a presupposition: the existence of principles of universal validity that can be recognized and shared by all “reasonable” human beings; beings, that is, who are capable of using their reason well.  Without the conviction that good and evil, justice and injustice, exist, this exchange would be a useless waste of time. A politically secular society need not be relativistic: it can admit that there exist universal values capable of bringing together persons belonging to different cultures, religions, and ethnicities, and that these same persons can identify these values through a search and an exchange conducted according to the rules of the argumentation of ideas mentioned above.
The plan for a secular state in which all – believers, non-believers, the faithful of various religions – can live together was born in Europe because the Greco-Roman and Christian cultural heritage gave us the idea of natural law: this permitted to identify a common platform of rights and duties beginning from which persons of different memberships, traditions, and convictions can work together in peace and equality. These, in synthesis, are the reasons why it should be maintained that the secularity of the state and of politics is at the heart of European identity. One should not forget that also the concept of “Christian forgiveness” has played a decisive role in the formation of Europe. It must be said that, after the breakdown of the Roman Empire, it is the Church that has taught the various semi-barbaric and very much violence-prone tribes and peoples that held sway over Europe, to live together.
From the above, moreover, it is clear how much Christianity has contributed to the development of this idea of secularity. The fact that this was affirmed in consequence of the religious wars and then became the banner of the 19th century liberal state – the fact that secularism was imposed on Europe apart from the Church and in spite of its opposition – does not change the fact that it has its roots in the distinction between religion and politics proper to Christianity. It is for this reason that, during the last century, political secularism could be recovered as a truly Christian value by the Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church, and, more recently, the Orthodox Churches.
Christianity and the Constitution of the EU
Placed in this context, the preamble of the new constitution, proposed by the Convention, seems a bit disappointing. It contains a series of references to rights, liberties, and democracy, but omits any reference to secularism, the element that distinguishes Europe from other civilizations. Some propose to insert into the European constitution a reference to the Christian roots of Europe, but even that doesn’t seem like enough. In one sense, it lends itself to an interpretation in terms of “archaeology,” an homage to a past that has little influence on the questions that really matter today. In another, it doesn’t take into account the reasons for mentioning the Christian tradition in a Europe that is becoming ever more secularized and multireligious. A generic remembrance of the Christian roots of Europe would not highlight enough the nexus that binds secularism and Christianity, and would thus place itself in a somewhat eccentric position in respect to what, especially in a juridical and political document like a constitution, is the center of the problem: the question of the rights and liberties of the citizens, which find their fundamental guarantee in the secularity of the state.
The reference to Judaism and Christianity leaves out only Islam from among the great religions of the Mediterranean basin. Apart from the fact that this is politically inopportune, it seems fundamentally unjust: around the end of the first millennium Europe acquired a debt toward Islam that the following centuries of conflict were not able to cancel. Spain, southern Italy, and the Balkans still preserve splendid traces of the Muslim civilization, and the studies of Bernard Lewis have shown how extended and profound is the contribution that it made to European science and culture. Without wishing in any way to equate the roles that Christianity and Islam had in the history of Europe, to pass over the Muslim tradition in silence seems to some myopic and hardly generous. For all these reasons, if it is thought opportune to modify the second clause of the preamble of the future European constitution (which now reads, “Inspired by the cultural, religious, and humanistic heritage of Europe...”), one could consider a formula of this tenor: “Inspired by the heritage constituted by the Greek and Roman civilizations, by the Jewish and Christian religious traditions, in fertile dialogue with the Muslim tradition, by the philosophical currents of the age of the Enlightenment...”
The sacrament of power
The latter process is brought about, according to Voegelin, by heretical developments, which are then secularized, like the eschatological trinitarianism of Gioacchino da Fiore, or even the expectation of the ultimate earthly Kingdom. The foundation of secularism in orthodox Christian doctrine thus principally comprehends the protection of the de-divinized political order from the constant risk of its tendency toward absolutism, from the assertion of a single and salvific political power, from politics as a sacrament. This is what is really at stake for secularism.
Paolo Prodi ended his great book of 1992 “The Sacrament of Power” with an exhortation: “We must learn to both transmit to new peoples and to demand from them respect for the techniques and mechanisms of the democratic system, but in the first place the spirit of the [Christian theological-political] dualism. If it is true that desacralization is the fruit of Western Christianity, then the principle of dual belonging, a dual order, is our tragedy – but it can also be our salvation [and that of others, I would add].”
What does secularism as the original and permanent de-divinization of politics imply? It implies that political modernity is essentially Christian, and, at the same time, that religious membership is necessary to guarantee that political citizenship not be corrupted. From this follows the recognition of Christianity, above all, and of the other founding religions. In the European constitutional charter that is being defined, this “datum” must be displayed. The historically shallow political culture of certain élites of the European community and the Christian subcultures that participate in their opacity must not think that they can smother an irreducible structure. It would not be the first time that history has punished these forms of ignorance.
For the Pope, Europe is not just "a geographic place," but, rather, "predominantly a cultural and historical concept" to which the Christian faith has given its form, and whose fundamental values have inspired "the democratic ideal and human rights of European modernity."
Beyond the lack of mention of the role of Christianity in the future European Constitution, which is in its final phase of redaction, what worries the Pontiff is the progressive secularization of the Continent in the form of "agnosticism and practical atheism" [see Angelus of July 27].
Confronted with this situation, the Pope proposes "a renewed commitment" which is "indispensable if we are to face the challenges of secularization, so that believers may make their entire life a true spiritual worship that is pleasing to God," in particular, through rediscovering the "value of Sunday," as he explained at the Angelus on Aug. 3.
"This day is the symbol par excellence of all that Christianity has stood for and still stands for, in Europe and throughout the world: the perennial proclamation of the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus, the celebration of his victory over sin and death, the commitment to the human being's full liberation," he said. "By preserving the Christian meaning of Sunday, a notable contribution is made to Europe for the preservation of an essential part of its own particular spiritual and cultural heritage," he added. This proclamation of the essential message of the Gospel, he said on the 8th of August, must be supported by "effective human promotion," inspired by "the culture of solidarity." "Today too, it is necessary to give renewed hope to the poor, so that in welcoming and serving them, it is Christ himself who welcomes and serves," he said. "Many challenges in this regard confront European believers. Today, there are many categories of persons who are poor: among them, the unemployed, the sick, isolated or abandoned elderly persons, the homeless, marginalized youth, immigrants and refugees." "A service of love also means to re-propose faithfully the truth about matrimony and the family, to educate young people, engaged couples and families themselves to live and spread the Gospel of life, fighting against the culture of death," the Holy Father added.
The Pope's constant reminder of the need to recognize the contribution of Christian values is based on his conviction, expressed the same day, that "only with everyone's contribution will it be possible to build a 'city worthy of man' in Europe and in the world, and a more just and stable international order."
"Behold, I make all things new," the Lord says (ibid., 21,5). In the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of hope resounds with vigor, which impels one to receive the "novelty of God," an eschatological gift that goes beyond every human possibility, and which only he can bring about. This "novelty" will be fulfilled at the end of time, but it is already present in history. Already now, in fact, through the Church, God is renewing and transforming the world, and the reflections of his action are perceptible also "in every form of human coexistence inspired by the Gospel" ("Ecclesia in Europa," No. 107).
2. The European Continent, which for 2,000 years "has heard the Gospel of the Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus" (ibid., 107), cannot but be understood by this "novelty." The Christian faith has given it form, and some of its fundamental values have later inspired "the democratic ideal and human rights" of European modernity. In addition to being "a geographic place," Europe is "predominantly a cultural and historical concept," characterized as a Continent thanks also to the unifying force of Christianity, which has been a primary factor of unity among peoples and cultures and of the integral promotion of man and his rights (see ibid., No. 108).
It cannot be denied that, in these our times, Europe is going though a crisis of values, and it is important that it recover its true identity. The process of enlargement of the European Union to include other countries cannot refer only to geographical and economic aspects, but must be translated in a renewed agreement of values to be expressed in law and in life (see ibid., No. 110).
3. Let us pray to the Holy Virgin, venerated in so many European shrines, so that she will help the Continent to always be aware of its spiritual vocation and contribute to build solidarity and peace "within its borders and throughout the world" (No. 113).[translation www.zenit.org].
A genuine faith in God should always lead us to a deeper respect for the rights of the human person, including people with different religions from our own, because we are all created by the same Father. So Europe has a special opportunity and vocation in this field. It can offer a great example to the world of different religions living amicably with one another and cooperating for the common good. That can only happen, of course, if religious believers take their faith peacefully but vigorously into the public square -- including the voting booth. "Separation of church and state" should never mean exiling religion from public affairs. The U.S. Constitution, for instance, forbids the establishment of a specific state church. It does not forbid, and the founders never intended to forbid, active religious involvement in public debate.
Politics is where the work takes place to ensure the common good and individual human dignity. So Catholics need to be very involved. They need to understand their Catholic faith, and they need to rely on it as a guide in their political decisions. Vatican II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world ["Gaudium et Spes"], declaration on religious liberty ["Dignitatis Humanae"] and the social encyclicals, including "Evangelium Vitae," are tremendous resources. Catholics should welcome cooperation with people of other religions, or no religion, who share a spirit of good will. The one thing Catholics cannot do is claim to be "Catholic" and then keep their faith out of their political actions. You can't personally believe in the humanity of the unborn child, and then vote for a law that allows the killing of that child. You can't personally support religious freedom, and then be silent about an "ally" that persecutes religious minorities. That's a form of lying.
A Letter to Europeans from a European Muslim
“Europe is in debt to Christianity because, like it or not, that is what has given it its form, meaning, and values. Denying all of this means, for Europe, denying itself.” This is the lesson from the Muslim Khaled Fouad Allam. Algerian by birth, Allam is an Italian citizen since 1990, and a professor of Islamic studies at the universities of Trieste and Urbino, a scholar highly respected and followed in ecclesiastical circles. On the front page of the September 23 edition of “la Repubblica,” the most important left-wing secularist newspaper printed in Italy, of which he is an editorialist, Allam published an open letter to Europeans that resounds as a severe lesson to all those who, by denying the Christian roots of Europe, in reality annihilate themselves and close themselves off from any acceptance of others.
In his letter Allam also gives an interpretation of John Paul II’s vision of Europe: “What can the Holy Father do other than renew constantly St. Francis’ travels to the sultans of the world, toward other cultures and religions?” Over the following two days, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, “Avvenire,” gave a great deal of coverage to the article by Allam. And they contrasted it with what took place over those very days in Strasbourg, in the European Parliament. There, on September 24, an amendment by the European Popular Party aimed at introducing an acknowledgment of the continent’s Christian roots into the future constitution was rejected with 283 votes against, 211 in favor, and 15 abstentions. The most recent draft limits itself to mentioning, in its preamble, “the cultural, religious, and humanistic heritage of Europe.” Here are some excerpts from the article by Allam:
[…] A Muslim brought up within Islam, I left the land that produced Saint Augustine, Albert Camus, and one of the greatest Islamic mystics, Sidi Abu Meddin. I learned to live within a witnessing Islam, capable of meeting confrontation and encountering others, and for this reason the question of the roots of Europe brings into question my being both European and Muslim. There are many complex and difficult questions at stake, but one of them is essential: the question of the foundations of European identity. […] The call of John Paul II to consider the question of the Christian roots of the continent assumes a central importance and requires much more than a simple historical and cultural interpretation.
Certainly, many have argued against this approach: some fear that this call could be transformed into a means of infringing upon the principles of secularism; others, appealing to the juridical-constitutional sphere, assert that the task of a constitution is that of organizing relations among the different powers.
These arguments have always seemed feeble to me. […] The question the Holy Father asks makes us recognize the fact that political thought cannot be reduced to quantifiable expertise, and that it is always necessary to question politics in order to prevent it from becoming an instrument of manipulation or a cynical expression of power. In the case of the question of Christian roots, the political situation is inviting us to make interpretations, to seek out reasons in order to understand, construct, formulate hypotheses. I have often wondered why the topic of Christian roots still undergoes such sustained polemics, while the word “market,” which resounds like a leitmotif throughout the text of the convention, has not provoked any reflection on the relationship between the market and the construction of Europe.
Certainly, at first glance it is possible to make an exclusivist interpretation of the phrase “Christian roots,” but this is an incorrect reading, because it does not consider the context in which the question is posed: this question is an extension of the pope’s twenty-five years of activity all over the planet.
In reality, John Paul II’s insistence on the question of the Christian roots of Europe must not be separated from his many initiatives for dialogue: from the prayer meeting in Assisi in 1986 to his meeting with Rabbi Toaff in the synagogue of Rome; from his voyage to Israel to his meeting in the mosque of Damascus with the mufti of that mosque, and, even earlier, his meeting in Casablanca with young Moroccans in 1985. All these things have created a new outlook, a new interpretation of Christianity that the history of past centuries had impeded. And the building of Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century is taking place in parallel with the shaping of this new Christianity that has broken free from its own history and has interiorized secularization. In effect, what can the Holy Father do other than renew constantly St. Francis’ travels to the sultans of the world, toward other cultures and religions?
The polemics over Christian roots lay bare our contradictions: the refusal to acknowledge these roots is the symptom of a fear, an inner block in regard to everything that European youth, now in their forties, learned on their school benches (crusades, religious wars, St. Bartholomew’s Night, etc.); but history demands a critical and honest distancing.
On cannot escape the fact that our modern political structures are rooted in Christianity: our law and institutions are the fruit of a complex elaboration that this civilization produced, apart from the fratricidal struggles that have marked it in past centuries.
But something even more profound has marked in an indelible way this continent, whose cultural boundaries are varied but in which we recognize a single essence, something that is difficult to elaborate rationally in a univocal way, but is present in the deepest heart of the European character. It is the passion for freedom – or rather democratic passions – and the sense of participating in a common history that have made Christianity the focal point around which Europe has defined itself. It is thus that we are moved by a Christ of Cimabue or find ourselves enchanted by Renaissance Madonnas, that we are carried away by listening to a motet by Bach or Mozart’s Requiem. None of this would have been possible without that debt. Europe is in debt to Christianity because, like it or not, that is what has given it its form, meaning, and values. Denying all of this means, for Europe, denying itself.
The question of Christian roots of Europe, at a moment in which everyone is talking about cultural diversity and multiethnicity, brings up other problems: how can one welcome the other while denying oneself? How can we seal a pact among the communities of the world if Europe refuses to recognize itself? Roots go down into the ground, where they meet, and will meet, other roots. The roots of Christianity are planted in Jewish and Greek soil, and now Christianity is facing Islam, while in the future it will encounter Asia and Africa.
This encounter is possible only if one is aware of one’s own roots. Considering the roots of Europe means considering possible, and sometimes unprecedented, extensions of the continent. Today America, China, and Africa are testing us, each with its own roots made of suffering and hope, while in Europe unease has already taken form, and is spreading. Europe, face to face with itself, is rich in wisdom but must still accept itself. To me, it represents the olive tree in the Koran, in verse 35 of the Sura of Light, which “is neither of the East nor of the West.” [translation: www.chiesa.espressonline.it]
 The age we are living in, with its own particular challenges, can seem to be a time of bewilderment. [...] I would like to mention in a particular way the loss of Europe's Christian memory and heritage, accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference whereby many Europeans give the impression of living without spiritual roots and somewhat like heirs who have squandered a patrimony entrusted to them by history. It is no real surprise, then, that there are efforts to create a vision of Europe which ignore its religious heritage, and in particular, its profound Christian soul, asserting the rights of the peoples who make up Europe without grafting those rights on to the trunk which is enlivened by the sap of Christianity.
 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.
CULTURE OF DEATH
 This is the context for those attempts, including the most recent ones, to present European culture with no reference to the contribution of the Christian religion which marked its historical development and its universal diffusion. We are witnessing the emergence of a new culture, largely influenced by the mass media, whose content and character are often in conflict with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person. This culture is also marked by a widespread and growing religious agnosticism, connected to a more profound moral and legal relativism rooted in confusion regarding the truth about man as the basis of the inalienable rights of all human beings. At times the signs of a weakening of hope are evident in disturbing forms of what might be called a “culture of death”.
 Yet, as the Synod Fathers made clear, man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable. Often those in need of hope believe that they can find peace in fleeting and insubstantial things. In this way, hope, restricted to this world and closed to transcendence, is identified, for example, with the paradise promised by science or technology, with various forms of messianism, with a hedonistic natural felicity brought about by consumerism, or with the imaginary and artificial euphoria produced by drugs, with certain forms of millenarianism, with the attraction of oriental philosophies, with the quest for forms of esoteric spirituality and with the different currents of the New Age movement.
 From the synodal Assembly there emerged the clear and passionate certainty that the Church has to offer Europe the most precious of all gifts, a gift which no one else can give: faith in Jesus Christ, the source of the hope that does not disappoint; a gift which is at the origin of the spiritual and cultural unity of the European peoples and which both today and tomorrow can make an essential contribution to their development and integration. After twenty centuries, the Church stands at the beginning of the third millennium with a message which is ever the same, a message which constitutes her sole treasure: Jesus Christ is Lord; in him, and in no one else, do we find salvation (Acts 4:12).
 Church in Europe, the “new evangelization” is the task set before you! Rediscover the enthusiasm of proclamation. [...] Let the proclamation of Jesus, which is the Gospel of hope, be your boast and your whole life. Carry on with renewed zeal in the same missionary spirit which, down these twenty centuries, beginning with the preaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul, has inspired so many holy men and women, the Saints who were authentic evangelizers of the European continent.
 In various parts of Europe a first proclamation of the Gospel is needed: the number of the unbaptized is growing, both because of the significant presence of immigrants of other religions and because children born into families of Christian tradition have not received Baptism, either as a result of the Communist domination or the spread of religious indifference. Indeed, Europe is now one of those traditionally Christian places which, in addition to a new evangelization, require in some cases a first evangelization.
 Everywhere, then, a renewed proclamation is needed even for those already baptized. 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.
 In her relations with public authorities the Church is not calling for a return to the confessional state. She likewise deplores every type of ideological secularism or hostile separation between civil institutions and religious confessions.
For her part, in keeping with a healthy cooperation between the ecclesial community and political society, the Catholic Church is convinced that she can make a unique contribution to the prospect of unification by offering the European institutions, in continuity with her tradition and in fidelity to the principles of her social teaching, the engagement of believing communities committed to bringing about the humanization of society on the basis of the Gospel, lived under the sign of hope. From this standpoint, the presence of Christians, properly trained and competent, is needed in the various European agencies and institutions, in order to contribute – with respect for the correct dynamics of democracy and through an exchange of proposals – to the shaping of a European social order which is increasingly respectful of every man and woman, and thus in accordance with the common good.
EUROPE, BE NOT AFRAID!
 Europe needs to make a qualitative leap in becoming conscious of its spiritual heritage. The impetus for this can only come from hearing anew the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the responsibility of all Christians to commit themselves to satisfying this hunger and thirst for life.
Consequently the Church feels it her duty to repeat vigourously the message of hope entrusted to her by God and says again to Europe: “'The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Saviour!' (Zeph 3:17). Her invitation to hope is not based on a utopian ideology; on the contrary, it is the timeless message of salvation proclaimed by Christ (Mk 1:15). With the authority she has received from her Lord, the Church repeats to today's Europe: Europe of the third millennium, “let not your hands grow weak!” (Zeph 3:16); do not give in to discouragement, do not resign yourself to ways of thinking and living that have no future because they are not based on the solid certainty of God's Word!
Taking up anew this invitation to hope, I repeat to you again today: Europe, as you stand at the beginning of the third millennium, open the doors to Christ, be yourself, rediscover your origins, relive your roots. Down the centuries you have received the treasure of Christian faith. It has grounded your life as a society on principles drawn from the Gospel, and traces of this are evident in the art, literature, thought and culture of your nations. But this heritage does not belong just to the past; it is a project in the making, to be passed on to future generations, for it has indelibly marked the life of the individuals and peoples who together have forged the continent of Europe.
 Do not be afraid! The Gospel is not against you, but for you. This is confirmed by the fact that Christian inspiration is capable of transforming political, cultural and economic groupings into a form of coexistence in which all Europeans will feel at home and will form a family of nations from which other areas of the world can draw fruitful inspiration.
Be confident! In the Gospel, which is Jesus, you will find the sure and lasting hope to which you aspire. This hope is grounded in the victory of Christ over sin and death. He wishes this victory to be your own.