FaithWorld

Pope Benedict decries growing Christianophobia in Europe

creche (Photo: Pope Benedict XVI blesses a nativity scene at the Vatican December 15, 2010/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict voiced the Catholic Church’s deep concern over “hostility and prejudice” against Christianity in Europe on Thursday, saying creeping secularism was just as bad as religious fanaticism. In the message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, marked on Jan. 1, he also reiterated recent condemnations of lack of religious freedom in countries in the Middle East where Christians are a minority, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

He said Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world and that it was “unacceptable” that in some places they had to risk their lives to practise their faith. But he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places.

“I also express my 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,” he said in the message.  “May Europe rather be reconciled to its own Christian roots, which are fundamental for understanding its past, present and future role in history.”

The Pope put what the Vatican has termed “aggressive secularism”, such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism: “It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

Church officials have expressed concerns over what they see as growing “Christianophobia” in the developed world. A top Vatican official addressed it at a recent summit of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Kazakhstan and Christian groups have set up the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians to record cases of perceived disadvantages.

Catholics and Orthodox report promising progress in latest round of unity talks

cathorth 1Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians reported promising progress on Friday in talks on overcoming their Great Schism of 1054 and bringing the two largest denominations in Christianity back to full communion. Experts meeting in Vienna this week agreed the two could eventually become “sister churches” that recognize the Roman pope as their titular head but retain many church structures, liturgy and customs that developed over the past millennium. (Photo: Metropolitan John Zizioulas (L) and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn in Vienna, 24 Sept 2010/Leonhard Foeger)

The delegation heads for the international commission for Catholic-Orthodox dialogue stressed that unity was still far off, but their upbeat report reflected growing cooperation between Rome and the Orthodox churches traditionally centred in Russia, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches,” Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. “If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain.” Archbishop Kurt Koch, the top Vatican official for Christian unity, said the joint dialogue must continue “intensively” so that “we see each other fully as sister churches.”

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s address at Lambeth Palace

lambeth 2 (Photo: Pope Benedict and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams embrace at Lambeth Palace in London, 17 Sept 2010/Chris Ison)

Meeting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Church of England and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Pope Benedict put aside differences between the two churches and stressed the close cooperation they have developed over the past four decades.

Here are excerpts from the pope’s comments to the archbishop:

“…It is not my intention today to speak of the difficulties that the ecumenical path has encountered and continues to encounter. Those difficulties are well known to everyone here. Rather, I wish to join you in giving thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us and for the remarkable progress that has been made in so many areas of dialogue during the forty years that have elapsed since the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission began its work. Let us entrust the fruits of that work to the Lord of the harvest, confident that he will bless our friendship with further significant growth.

“The context in which dialogue takes place between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church has evolved in dramatic ways since the private meeting between Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher in 1960. On the one hand, the surrounding culture is growing ever more distant from its Christian roots, despite a deep and widespread hunger for spiritual nourishment. On the other hand, the increasingly multicultural dimension of society, particularly marked in this country, brings with it the opportunity to encounter other religions. For us Christians this opens up the possibility of exploring, together with members of other religious traditions, ways of bearing witness to the transcendent dimension of the human person and the universal call to holiness, leading to the practice of virtue in our personal and social lives. Ecumenical cooperation in this task remains essential, and will surely bear fruit in promoting peace and harmony in a world that so often seems at risk of fragmentation.

Excerpts from greeting speeches by pope and queen in Edinburgh

pope queen 1 (Photo: Queen Elizabeth and Pope Benedict in Edinburgh, 16 Sept 2010/Dave Thompson)

Pope Benedict and Queen Elizabeth delivered short speeches in Edinburgh at the start of the pontiff’s four-day visit to Britain. Here are excerpts from their comments:

Pope Benedict: “…The name of Holyroodhouse, Your Majesty’s official residence in Scotland, recalls the “Holy Cross” and points to the deep Christian roots that are still present in every layer of British life. The monarchs of England and Scotland have been Christians from very early times and include outstanding saints like Edward the Confessor and Margaret of Scotland …. the Christian message has been an integral part of the language, thought and culture of the peoples of these islands for more than a thousand years…

“We find many examples of this force for good throughout Britain’s long history. Even in comparatively recent times, due to figures like William Wilberforce and David Livingstone, Britain intervened directly to stop the international slave trade. Inspired by faith, women like Florence Nightingale served the poor and the sick and set new standards in healthcare that were subsequently copied everywhere. John Henry Newman, whose beatification I will celebrate shortly, was one of many British Christians of his age whose goodness, eloquence and action were a credit to their countrymen and women. These, and many people like them, were inspired by a deep faith born and nurtured in these islands.

Tips on reconciling Muslim practises with German schools

The German government and representatives of the country’s large Muslim community said on Thursday they had agreed a number of practical proposals to resolve conflicts between German schools and Muslim practises.

The government cannot legally enforce the proposals because, in Germany’s federal system, each of the country’s 16 states regulates education law.

GERMANY/Yet the proposals — agreed upon at a high-profile summit in Berlin aimed at boosting the integration of Germany’s Muslim residents — testify to an increasingly open and rational debate in Germany about Islam.

Look who’s celebrating Reformation Day today

Today is Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in eastern Germany and set off the Protestant Reformation. It is a public holiday in the five eastern German states, in Slovenia and — this year for the first time — in Chile.

Chile? Isn’t that traditionally a Catholic country? Even the Catholic parts of Germany don’t celebrate Reformation Day.

Yes, Chile is traditionally Catholic, but now only about 70% so. Like elsewhere in Latin America, Protestant churches — especially evangelicals and Pentecostals — have spread rapidly in recent decades. They now make up just over 15% of the Chilean population, up from 7% in 1970. It’s not a new story, but creating a holiday especially for Protestants is a symbolic step towards recognising the changes in the religious landscape in Latin America.

Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

Pope Benedict and President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, 12 Sept 2008/Jacky NaegelenFor a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.

The problem began when the former ambassador,  Bernard Kessedjian, died on 19 December 2007, one day before Sarkozy delivered a speech in Rome defending France’s Catholic heritage.  Sarko’s first choice to replace him was Max Gallo, a popular historian and novelist who stresses the Christian roots themes dear to Pope Benedict. Not a diplomat, but a leading intellectual and an interesting choice. Gallo said thanks but he preferred to stay in Paris.

Pope lays down the law to French Catholic bishops

Pope Benedict in Lourdes, 15 Sept 2008/Regis DuvignauPope Benedict’s speech to France’s bishops at Lourdes was a classic example of an “iron first in a velvet glove” address. Delivered calmly and in elegant French, it basically laid down the law to a group that has been among the most critical in the Church of his turn towards traditional Catholicism. It was billed as a meeting but was in fact a monologue. He read it out without hardly ever looking at the 170 cardinals and bishops before him and left right after finishing the text.

“Benedict XVI gave the bishops a veritable road map to help them trace the paths of the future for the church in France,” wrote Jean-Marie Guénois, religion correspondent of Le Figaro. “He wanted this meeting. It’s the only one he imposed on the organisers. Which shows the importance, in his eyes, of what he wanted to tell them.”

The most striking part was his call to the bishops to make more place for traditionalists. The French bishops lobbied the Vatican last year before Benedict liberalised the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass, arguing that giving the traditionalists too much leeway would undermine the authority of the bishops. The “tradis” are especially strong in France, both in the form of those loyal to Rome and those who have broken with it. The culture war between them and the majority church is deeply rooted and mutual suspicion is strong. Bishops worry that traditionalists want to form a “church within a church” if given the slightest chance. Among mainstream Catholics, that can translate into a high sensitivity to anything seen as rolling back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Irish voters and the EU’s “loss of Christian memory”

Protest sign in Dublin, 21 July 2008/Philippe WojazerDid the Irish reject the European Union’s Lisbon treaty last June because they are “losing their Christian memory?” Cardinal Seán Brady, the top Catholic cleric in the once staunchly Catholic country, thinks that can partially explain the vote.

The cardinal told a conference in County Mayo on Sunday that many Christians in Europe think the EU bases its values on a lowest common denominator that “invariably coincides with the secular and relativist tradition within Europe – that which denies moral absolutes with an objective basis – rather than the religious view.”

They think the EU is suffering from what the late Pope John Paul called a “loss of Christian memory,” he said, according to reports in the Irish press. As Brady put it: