Interview: A Spiritual Dimension is Necessary for Europe
Nov 11, 2004
Under the former Communist regime, Vlk (68) had to carry out his priestly ministry in secret, while earning his living as a window cleaner.
(Zenit.org, Oct. 24 2000) For seven years now, he has led the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE), which just ended it general assembly in Leuven. He has led the CCEE with the sensitivity typical of the Church in the East -- heroic in her resistance to communism and also critical of neo-capitalism. --Q: Eminence, the European Union is facing important objectives. First of all, extension to include countries of the East. As CCEE president, in addition to being bishop of this geographic area of Europe, what judgment can you make on these challenges? --Cardinal Vlk: We have given much time to these reflections in our assembly. Among other things, we wished to meet with some representatives of the European institutions to know in what way the Churches of Europe might help in this process. Unification cannot take place only for political, economic and financial reasons. Those who are responsible also say this: A spiritual dimension is necessary, which gives perspective to a road that is often difficult and resisting, for a greater unity of European peoples.
The same conclusion is reached by those who, like me, have lived under communism. Without spiritual motivation and, I wish to add, profoundly religious motivation, the countries of the East would not have been able to free themselves from dictatorship and oppression. --Q: However, in Eastern European society doubts and fears are spreading in regard to a decided integration from on high. There are even those who have compared Brussels' Eurocrats with former Soviet bureaucrats. --Cardinal Vlk: It is true, there is a fear of loss of national identity, especially where there is strong religious tradition as, for example, in Poland. I think that on this point the European Union must do everything possible to apply the principle of subsidiarity: All those decisions that can be made at levels closer to the people should have precedence over decisions at the central level. --Q: For many, talk of European unification means opening the doors to secularization, yes? --Cardinal Vlk: Look here, until some time ago it was thought that the process of secularization was irreversible. At the beginning of the century, the German sociologist Max Weber formulated this theory but he later realized that this was not so and he formulated the thesis of the persistence of religion in the modern world. However, there are those who prefer to repeat old topics and close their eyes to reality. It is a mentality that resists death; suffice it to read the recent Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union. --Q: Why has the assembly of European bishops given so much attention to this document? --Cardinal Vlk: Because the idea of a charter of rights might imply a decisive step for the European Union. A step in the direction of giving an explicit ethical foundation to the communitarian path of our continent. --Q: In fact, there is talk of the possibility of inscribing the charter in the Union's treaties, transforming it into the nucleus of the future European Constitution. What do you think of this? --Cardinal Vlk: For the time being, the charter that will be approved at the Nice summit will have no juridical value; they are only recommendations. However, with perspective, it could become the preamble of a European Constitution. The judgment of the European bishops is that the charter must be profoundly revised. If it were inscribed in the treaties as it is, it would cause many problems and harm the process of extension of the European Union. --Q: In your opinion, why has there been a desire to exclude any reference to European religious tradition in the charter's preamble? --Cardinal Vlk: It's as if some groups, which are very strong politically, were afraid to recognize the reality of the Christian faith and to acknowledge its decisive contribution to European construction. I know very well that some give importance to laicism and they do not wish to betray the ideals of the French Revolution. However, as I said earlier, the world moves on, and one cannot look at the religious phenomenon through the lens of 18th-century thinkers.