Pope Benedict Is Right: Europe Needs to Appreciate Its Christian Roots
By Michael J. Gaynor
Pope Benedict XVI, previously known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, should be heeded: he knows what of he speaks. In the first general audience of his pontificate he stressed Europe's "inalienable" Christian roots. The wisdom of his choice of the his papal name Benedict (the name of Pope Benedict XV, "a courageous and authentic prophet of peace" who led the Catholic Church during the dark years of World War I, and Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order and one of the patron saints of Europe) is being confirmed by the current rioting in Europe by an Islamic extremist criminal element that hoots at Europe's Christian roots. What Pope Benedict called "the inalienable Christian roots of its culture and civilisation."
Pope Benedict's predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, campaigned for specific mention of Europe's Christian roots in the preamble of the European Union's new constitution. He was unsuccessfully, but right. The sooner Europe returns respectfully to its Christian roots, the better Europe will be.
Like Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, considered it both his right and duty to intervene in European politics, to inject Christianity into public life because of Europe's religious past. In an interview in Le Figaro magazine published in the summer of 2004, he deemed it a "mistake" to omit Europe's Christian roots in the European Union constitution, calling Europe a "cultural continent, not a geographical one" whose roots are Christian. And used the same argument to explain why Turkey, with its mostly Muslim population, should not be a member of the European Union, warning that Turkey could "try to set up a cultural continent with neighboring Arab countries and become the protagonist of a culture with its own identity."
Pope Benedict views the rebuilding of Europe after World War II as made possible "thanks to political leaders who had strong Christian roots," and the failure to recognize Europe's Christian identity as a reflection of "a hatred of Europe against itself and against its great history." As Cardinal Ratzinger, he sharply criticized what he called the "ideological secularism" of Europe--France, for example, upholds a strict separation of church and state as a pillar of the republic--as a "total profanity." (Is it sheer coincidence that the rioting began in France?) And criticized "multiculturalism" for sometimes amounting to "an abandonment and disavowal of what is our own."
Pope Benedict's problem is not with Islam, which he described as a "valid spiritual foundation for people's lives" that "seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe," meaning Christian Europe, but with perversions of Islam. Which is also the case with President Bush.
Last August His Holiness went to Cologne in his homeland, Germany, urged Europe to rediscover its Christian tradition and warned against rising secularism as he concluded his first foreign trip with an open-air Mass for a million people.
Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict promoted better interfaith relations. He visited a synagogue, winning applause for his warning about rising anti-Semitism, and talked frankly with Muslims about terrorism. His basic message was that people need to use the freedom God gave them wisely: And he explained that "[f]reedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness so that we ourselves can become true and good."
Pope Benedict did not flinch when it came to dealing with Muslims. He addressed Muslim officials as "my dear Muslim friends," but raised the issue of terrorism, which he called "cruel fanaticism." And which is a worldwide problem.
The current rioting in Europe, which has continued in France for eleven consecutive nights and spread to other countries, highlights the importance of one of Pope Benedict's favorite themes--the need to evangelize a Europe that has become increasingly secular despite its centuries of Christian belief--and the foolishness of the decision of the drafters of the proposed European constitution to omit any reference to Europe's undeniable Christian roots and of Europeans in general to succumb to the siren song of secular extremism.
Michael J. Gaynor
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Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II, Europe, Christian roots, secular extremism, Islamic extremism
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