No crucifix hung in large meeting room on San Servolo Island in Venice. But the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights banning crosses in Italian school classrooms nonetheless provided the ubiquitous backdrop for this year's dialogue with religions by the European Parliament's Christian Democrat EPP Group.
For many of the speakers from Christian denominations and numerous politicians on Thursday and Friday, the verdict was a symptom: Christianity is being pushed more and more out of visible social life. A finding that the EPP politicians present, including leading CDU/CSU MEPs, want to oppose. The speakers showed ecumenical unanimity in their analysis that the EU is too little aware of its values and its origins in the Judeo-Christian heritage. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Cyril I. stressed, for example, in his message read in Venice, that the construction of Europe is not possible without reference to the Christian testimony. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I also. emphasized in his greeting address, which was read out, that dealing with religion is the quality test for freedom within a society. And Polish Catholic Bishop Emeritus Tadeusz Pieronek saw in decisions on abortion and same-sex unions, for example, an attempt to use pluralism as a weapon in the fight against religion and Christian values.
"Christian hostility is a realistic danger" The analysis was also shared by experts and politicians. Mario Mauro, an Italian member of the European People's Party (EPP), expressed fears that at some point the flags of European countries could be banned. "The Union Jack, the British flag, is composed of three crosses at once," Mauro recalled. But the cross has long since become a symbol for universal values, he criticized the Strasbourg crucifix verdict. Mauro called it an attack on common sense that the European Parliament is more concerned with alleged human rights abuses by the Catholic Church than with abuses in China or Cuba. For the "Christianophobia" network, Viennese historian Martin Kugler confirmed that Christianophobia has become a realistic danger. Politicians must become aware of this. Speakers from Cyprus and Turkey made clear that Christian minorities in European countries have long been exposed to dramatic discrimination. They pointed out that in the northern part of Cyprus, which has been under Turkish occupation since 1974, Orthodox houses of worship have been converted into stables and hotels or have simply fallen into ruin. Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople lamented that the future of their minority is in grave danger. Turkey prescribes that only Turkish citizens can be elected patriarchs. Priest training in the country, however, continues to be impossible. In addition, because of ongoing attacks, the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey has dropped from about 100 to about 100.000 in the 1950s to less than 3,000 at last count.000, according to Theophanis Economidis of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Hope thanks to new EU treaty After all, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of the church several times in the case of the Orthodox minority – for example, when the Strasbourg judges ordered the return of an orphanage. The verdict should have been implemented by April. But nothing has happened yet, Economidis complained. MEPs draw hope from the new EU treaty, which was signed on 1. December comes into force. Slovenian politician Alojz Peterle called the provision in the report that the EU institutions should engage in regular dialogue with churches and religious communities a recognition of Europe's spiritual dimension. The provision must be filled with life – an annual working dinner with religious dignitaries is not enough for this. In any case, there are concrete proposals: The political scientist Friedrich Bokern suggested that a subcommittee for intercultural and religious dialogue be set up in the European Parliament.