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Rediscovering the Soul of Europe

Father Vincent Twomey's Take on a Troubled Continent

DUBLIN, Ireland, OCT. 25, 2005 (Zenit) - Can the devout Muslims in Europe's midst help the continent to recover its soul?

Father Vincent Twomey raised that question in his keynote address at the John Paul II Society's annual conference, held Oct. 7 at All Hallows College, Dublin.

Father Twomey is a professor of moral theology at the pontifical St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, County Kildare. Below is an adapted text of his address.

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Europe -- Risks and Opportunities

What does the world "Europe" mean to most people? Up to fairly recent times, Irish people when they heard the word "Europe" -- tended to think of "the Continent," a place perhaps to visit on vacation, where foreign languages were spoken. Europe meant foreign.

As part of the Anglo-Saxon world, we tended (and still tend) to identify spontaneously with one of the two powers in whose midst we happen to exist and whose histories have for centuries, for better and for worse, been entwined with ours: the former British Empire and the present American superpower.

Our history is such that we have deep emotional ties, both negative and positive, with Britain and America, whereas our historical ties to Europe are primarily of the distant past, when Irish monks were the harbingers of medieval Europe. Few today are even aware of the role they played.

It is noteworthy that when we needed help to broker an agreement between the rival parties in Northern Ireland, Dublin turned to Washington for help, not Brussels. And when we celebrate our National Feast Day -- now a secularized Paddy's week -- our head of government ritually pays homage to the president of the United States in the White House. Similarly, the rhetorical question as to whether we are closer to Boston than Berlin betrays the same sense, the distance we feel to the Continent and of closeness to the USA.

More recently, the term Europe might perhaps conjure up the European Union, from which we have benefited so much economically and where an increasing number of our citizens, especially the young, are working and living. But the Irish in Europe are too few and too recent to make us feel any sense of attachment to the rest of Europe.

Generally speaking, the European Union is seen mostly as the "common market," a lucrative source for subventions and for increasingly suffocating red tape in equal measure. The most obvious visible sign of the EU's presence is the network of new roads and motorways. Otherwise, the EU is seen as nothing more than a huge, anonymous bureaucracy imposing all kinds of procedures and demands on us, such as fishing quotas, etc.

The opening up of national boundaries across the EU has helped further a new phenomenon for Ireland: immigration of tens of thousands, mostly from Eastern European States who last year joined the Union, a ceremony presided over by the Irish presidency of the EU in May 2004. The presence of these skilled workers -- so crucial for the economy -- who are ready to work long hours for a minimum wage in our midst, does not always ensure that Irish people at home will become any more sympathetic to "Europe." Xenophobia is not unknown.

The sense of indifference to, if not alienation from, the EU project is not only felt in Ireland. Most Western European countries have centuries of history behind them. Many were great, independent powers whose influence covered the globe. Even tiny nations like Holland and Belgium exercised power overseas. The sense of national identity, often underpinned by a common language and a dominant, though now mostly dormant, religion, is deep.

The Second World War made nationalism suspect and led to the project to reunite Western Europe, itself under threat from the Soviet Union, by stressing what is common to these countries. The fathers of the EU were convinced Christians; most were practicing Catholics, who had a vision of Europe built on its Christian foundations.

Its goal was to make national identity something relative by subsuming the concerns of individual states to the greater common good of the broader community, first at the economic level and later, it was hoped, at the cultural and political level. The rejection of the proposed EU Constitution by the citizens of France and Holland shows how much these efforts failed. The reasons for the failure are complex, but the end result is clear. The French and the Dutch are in the first instance that: French and Dutch, not European.

However, one should not be too pessimistic, since at least two important goals were achieved: the end of wars among the European nations themselves -- at least among those of them who were members of the EU -- and the raising of the standard of living. The peace and prosperity of the past half a century has ...

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