Brussels, 5 May 2008.
On behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has millions of faithful living on EU territory, I would like to commend the EU leadership for bringing together leaders of the world's religions. I applaud those efforts of the European Institutions that invest in the promotion of tolerance and peace among representatives of different religions and world views. I appreciate the fact that the EU leadership is willing to listen to our concerns, and hope that our discussion today will not remain on the theoretical level but will have practical consequences.
Inter-religious dialogue, as well as dialogue between religion and secular ideologies, is a matter of necessity and urgency. Europe is witnessing a significant re-shaping of its religious map. In some countries, where not long ago an atheist ideology was officially imposed on the entire population, and where churches were heavily persecuted, we are now witnessing an unprecedented religious revival. In other countries, however, we see a clear decline in religious practice. Secularism is gaining momentum in nations which not long ago identified themselves as Christian, while the growth of Islam is also quite noticeable.
The EU leadership makes laudable efforts to help immigrants from Islamic countries to embrace European values and to fully integrate into European society. An environment of tolerance is being created, whereby every person, regardless of his or her beliefs, must feel at home.
I believe, however, that secular ideologies should not be regarded as the main basis for creating a society of tolerance and mutual respect. A secular or atheist ideology cannot serve as a common denominator for all of the different world views that exist in Europe.
I also believe that tolerance should not be promoted at the expense of Christians, who continue to constitute the majority in Europe's population. Instances of Christianophobia and of discrimination against Christians should be officially condemned. The public display of Christian symbols should nowhere in Europe be prohibited, and the celebration of Christian feasts should nowhere be discouraged in the name of falsely-understood tolerance.
One would expect from the EU authorities that they will do more to protect Europe's Christian heritage. This relates, in particular, to the Kosovo region, where churches are being brutally destroyed, and thousands of Christians are left homeless or forced into exile. It also relates to that part of Cyprus which is still unlawfully occupied by Turkish military forces, where churches are being ruined and the remaining Christian population continues to suffer excessively.
Turkey aspires towards membership in the European Union, while at the same time continuing to neglect the needs of its Christian population. Turkey's refusal to reopen the theological school on Halki, in spite of repeated requests from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, is but one of many examples of such neglect. This largely anti-Christian policy is presently enforced by the official denial of the atrocities committed against Christians in the past, such as the genocide of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. I hope that the EU will use the mechanism of negotiation with Turkey in order to ensure that crimes of the past will never be repeated in the future, and that religious minorities in Turkey will be treated according to civilized standards.
Much more could and should be done by the EU leadership to protect Christian populations outside of Europe, notably in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and in many other Islamic countries. In Iraq, the killing and abduction of Christian clergy is a daily reality. In Afghanistan, conversion to Christianity may lead to the death sentence. In Saudi Arabia, no single Christian church exists and Christian workers are not allowed to read the Bible or to come together for worship. Alarming news about the persecution and killing of Christians comes from Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, as well as from many African nations.
I would like to conclude my short contribution by affirming that Christian Churches in the European Union, notably the Orthodox Churches, will continue to co-operate fully with the EU leadership in order to create a world founded on the principles of tolerance, justice and equality.
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