There is a great spirit in this place. I would almost say an unusual spirit these days: an island of responsibility, solidarity and unity. I am just arriving from another morning meeting on the sovereign debt crisis. The spirit there was slightly different. I wished the European Parliament was much more inspired by you.
This is the 14th Annual European Prayer Breakfast and I am delighted to be here with you today. Welcome to the European Parliament to all those who have come from outside our House, especially those who have travelled to Brussels for this event.
I understand that there are about 300 participants at this year’s Prayer Breakfast and that you have come from all across the EU as well as from further afield in some cases.
Our prayer is something of crucial importance these days – as always. Furthermore, this is a Christian ecumenical prayer gathering and as a member of the Augsburg Congregation living in predominantly-Catholic Poland, I have always been a strong supporter of ecumenical initiatives.
Various signs of crisis – economic, social, and ecological – seem to overshadow the horizon today, they cause fear, doubt, and a sense of chaos. In moments like this, the special responsibility lies with the Christians. We – because of the nature of our faith – are people of hope. We proved that many times in history.
In two years time, 2013, we will mark the 1700 anniversary of the Edict of Milan. It brought freedom of religion in the Roman Empire and allowed Christianity for public worship. From now on, Christianity became the main driving force, shaping Europe – the richness of its spiritual diversity of many confessions and national cultures. Over the centuries, Christianity had various experiences – good and bad. The evil ones counted inquisition and the crusades, also the religious wars fought among Christians. All Christian believers are aware of that. Pope John Paul II passed his apologies for those events. But there is also an extremely rich heritage of values and beliefs, on which European civilisation is based – and today even more than merely the European civilisation.
This heritage has been questioned in the 20th century by two totalitarian ideologies: Atheistic Communism and Fascist Nazism. Starting from other premises, they cruelly tried to change the face of Europe. Its revival after these disasters was also a revival of Christianity. This is reflected in concepts such as the political unification or our continent. This resulted in a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity, unknown to earlier generations. And we must always remember that the founding fathers of the united Europe were active Christians.
It cannot be forgotten today, when we are facing a difficult series of challenges. At the same time, the question arises whether Christian heritage is still valuable, if it is not just another historical costume – respectable but useless? Let me be clear – a courageous testimony of Christians, present also in politics – tolerant and open to others – is one of the greatest strengths we have. If we give it up, we will be condemned to the erosion of the European spirit, digested by nationalism and atomisation; and also by increased feeling of spiritual emptiness – disease of a world of excessive consumption.
Bringing up the Milan Edict is also a very good starting point for discussions about the autonomy between Church and the state. I am saying clearly – ”autonomy”, not ”separation”. Throughout the centuries we have built a model in which public authorities and religious authorities each keep their autonomy in their own domain. At the same time, there is an absolute need for cooperation between public and religious authorities in many spheres – because such cooperation is important for building together a fair and just society.
In this context, it is difficult not to notice that in Europe we have recently been witnesses of aggressive secularism. This is something I would call negative tolerance. One example can be the question of the cross in the public space. An aggressive, and in reality intolerant, minority would like to lock our faith in to the small box of our privacy. Indeed, this would mean to scrap the idea of religious freedom which has been promoted in the Milan Edict.
History shows that the empty space left by the removed cross has always been conquered by totalitarian ideologies. The disappearance of the cross often resulted not in the release but the enslavement of man. I am convinced that we can not only save our faith, but through our attitude in a secularised world, we Christians can also be the salt of this earth and a light for everyone.
I am convinced that what we are experiencing today is not only a crisis of public debt – a crisis, which came from the US after the failure of Lehman Brothers – it is also a fundamental crisis of values. It is because our material development is not accompanied by a spiritual development, nor by credibility of our moral standards.
The search for our own benefits requires a search for values! When we are getting rich, there is a need of responsibility; a need to take care of welfare – a need to take of equality; finally – the idea of competitiveness requires the idea of justice. We need not only jobs, but work ethos. Finally, any activity without love the Apostle Paul called a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 12).
The lack of values could be much more dangerous to Europe than the lack of capital or the lack of political power.
Dear friends, Communism was overthrown by faith. We can see it clearly in the success of Solidarność, whose background and mission were based on Christian values and on the spirit of Christian love. In 1981, at the founding congress of Solidarność I chaired, we had a prayer breakfast every morning. Why could capitalism not be saved in the same way? I am certain it could be.
Therefore, prayer and personal testimony are of so much importance. It is the best promotion of our beliefs. Our responsibilities towards Europe are a consequence of this belief.
Europe can’t be only pragmatic, rational, focused on economy. Without reference to axiology it is not possible to give an answer to the most important challenges which we are facing today. They relate to the sphere of values, not only to techniques.
Even more so, for us Christians the supranational idea is quite obvious. It is because we have always been united by the principles of our faith and our values, despite of all divisions in the world.
This is what Europe needs today: a renewal of our faith, a renewal of our common values. It is the responsibility of us, Christian politicians, to provide for this. Sensing the enormous amount of spiritual strength in this hall and beyond, I am sure we can manage.
Thank you very much!
Prof Jerzy Buzek
President of the European Parliament
European Prayer Breakfast Brussels
30 November 2011