2006-10-09 15:18:00

The primary task of Churches in the European Union is to make their position available competent

Noel Trenor, secretary general of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), in an interview to Interfax-Religion, speaks of the need for European Churches to be able to advocate their positions before the European Union institutions and to be honest and worthy in interfaith dialogue with Islam.

- What role in your view do Christian Churches and religious communities play in the process of European integration today?

- At first it should be said that the process of the European integration is a political project, and it is therefore a political process. It is now some fifty years old. In March of next year, in the 25th of March, Europeans will celebrate fifty years of the Treaty of Rome (the 1957 Treaty of Rome establishing the European Community - IF) which founded the common market, a Treaty, which is founded on the Christian vision of society, which is establishing a common market in order to achieve peace in Europe, to promote reconciliation between peoples and to establish solidarity among nations, a solidarity within Europe and a solidarity between Europe and the rest of the world. These are the basic principles of the political project for united Europe. There is no mention of churches and religions in the Treaty of Rome, nor in any of the pointing treaties of the European project. However, the basic idea, the basic vision and the values, which are at the basis of the European project, are values, which all Christians - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant - share and promote.

After the signing of the Single European Act in 1986, many political leaders recognized that it was necessary to engage all citizens and all organizations concerned with values in the public debate on Europe. And since that time Churches and religions have been involved in various forms of informal seminars and dialog with the European institutions about how best to shape Europe, about how to refine it on basic Christian values.

You asked about the engagement of religions and churches in that project. It is an engagement, which is necessary for Europe itself, so that Europe may have a chance.

- Do you think European politicians, the leaders of the European Union institutions, hear today the voice of religions in political decision-making?

- As I said, the European project is a political project. Voices of all strata of society make themselves heard by the institutions of the European Union. As do the churches and the Christian community. The answer to your question is as follows. The European Commission and the European Parliament also listen to the voice of the Churches. Do they take that in the consideration? In some cases - yes, in some cases they hear it among other voices. The point is this: the question is not so much for the institutions to listen to us, as do we make ourselves heard with confident arguments, with rigorous analyses of situation in Europe and with the convictions of Europeans. The question is as much a question to Churches: are we courageous and competent enough to evangelize in modern European society?

- What is the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to the intention of Turkey to join the European Union?

- The Catholic Church and the Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the European community recognize that the European Union itself has set criteria for all countries to admit. They are known to us as Copenhagen criteria. They are of two kinds: economic and political. Every country, including Turkey, must admit all these criteria, which include dispositions on human rights, respect of freedom, freedom expression and respect for minorities. Turkey has made much progress in recent years in economic sector, and in political sector it still has many issues to verify. The COMECE and, for that matter, the Holy See does not have a position on these political issues. It hopes that the criteria are applied justly, and we expect, of course, Turkey will slowly move towards recognizing fundamental rights of all, including all minorities therein.

- But Turkey is also a country with a predominant Muslim population. How in your opinion should European Christians behave in the process cultural and religious dialog with Islamic Turkey?

- Well, this dialog must develop, not only in Europe, but also worldwide. The contemporary world is characterized by increased mobility, by the proximity of different ethnic groups and peoples to one another. And one of the great challenges of the future is to promote dialogue and understanding between people of different religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Therefore, it is essential that we as Christians also promote honest and worthy interreligious dialogue.