(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.