Church demands credit in European charter

August 1, 2003

The Roman Catholic Church has enlisted Europe's universities in a drive to ensure the continent's Christian roots are included in the new European constitution.

Last month, a massive, pan-European symposium - Universities and the Church in Europe - was convened in Rome with the aim of influencing the commission of European politicians, headed by Valery Giscard d'Estaing, that is putting the final touches to the constitution.

So far, and much to the chagrin of the Vatican, the commission has resisted including a reference to Christianity in the preamble to the constitution.

The symposium, organised by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and held at the Vatican's Lateran University, brought together more than 150 participants - among them rectors of Catholic universities, Catholic rectors and academics from many state universities, and bishops in whose diocese there is a university.

Scores of lectures and debates included titles such as "The patron saints of Europe", "The reason of science, the power of technology, the knowledge of faith", "Forms of spirituality in European literature", "Religious experience in European man in the third millennium" and "The role of Catholic universities in Europe".

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Episcopal Conference, emphasised the importance of universities in the development of a European culture and identity. He "deeply deplored that the introduction of the project for a European constitution makes no reference to Christianity and, so far, does not even mention God".

Pope John Paul II visited the symposium and said that Europe could not "look to the future without considering its roots", and that the formation of a humanistic culture would have been "unthinkable without Christianity".

Monsignor Lorenzo Leuzzi, coordinator of the symposium, said it was organised in April 2002, when there was no way of knowing when the European constitution would be finalised, without any intention of exerting pressure on decision-makers. "It was a coincidence," he said, "but a fortunate one that I like to believe is a sign of divine providence."

Asked how non-Christian Europeans would feel about having the European Union defined as "rooted in Christianity", Monsignor Leuzzi replied that it was "simply a recognition of historical fact, and in any case Christianity does not exclude non-Christians".

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