Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Statement by Father Laurent Mazas of the Pontifical Council on Culture at the Council of Europe Colloquy of Intellectuals
Having been invited at short notice to replace the Archbishop of Strasbourg, who was unable to attend, I refer to the series of colloquies on The European Identity organised by the Secretary General during the Luxembourg Chairmanship in 2001, when, having been asked to introduce the first session, I highlighted the tension between the particular and the universal present in every identity: “While the identity of a people reflects its particularity, it aspires at the same time to universality, through the best of its many qualities and thanks to the fact that it is rooted in human nature. A culture is not truly human unless within it there is an openness towards other cultures and the universal. The requirements of particularity are the basis of the rights for specific cultural identities. The requirements of universality, on the other hand, underlie our consequent obligations towards other cultures and humanity as a whole.”1
A question often overlooked is that of the end purpose: why this reflection on the European identity? To enable Europeans to live together more harmoniously in a “European common home” founded on peace, justice and love. The end purpose is mankind!
With reference to John-Paul II, Polish by culture, a great European and a universal man: “Man is at once the son and creator of his own culture”, I should like to stress the meaning of the Holy See’s insistence on recognition of Europe’s obvious Christian roots, while pointing out that they have never been thought of as excluding other contributions. When someone offers a fruit to eat, he does not force you also to eat the roots of the tree which gave that fruit. The important thing is not to make false accusations against the Church, but to understand the real reasons for the appeals it makes.
The body for which I work, the Pontifical Council of Culture, set up on the initiative of John-Paul II, is concerned with the Church’s contribution to the building of a more humane world through the promotion of a culture of and for man.
Based on my participation in the drafting of the Opatija Declaration, I should like to point out the importance of an awareness, not only on the part of culture ministers, but on the part of all civil authorities, of their role, not in the field of interfaith dialogue as such – it is for clerics to dialogue amongst themselves – but in the conditions governing that dialogue: the important thing is that, in states, interfaith dialogue should not be made impossible because of partisan attitudes by public authorities. The conditions governing dialogue mean, on the one hand, genuine dialogue by the state with individual religious denominations – secularism does not mean ignorance of the components that go to make up the nation – and, on the other hand, a knowledge of religion which depends on education – some countries seem increasingly aware of how dramatic it is for a population to have lost the key to understanding its cultural heritage. In order not to oversimplify, or even distort, curricula must be designed in co-operation with the relevant religious authorities. Lastly, the media are falling short in their role as mediators by giving insufficient coverage to certain extraordinary initiatives in the area of interfaith dialogue, such as the Assisi meetings held on the initiative of John-Paul II, or the Sant’Egidio meetings, which put right certain prejudices concerning the link between religion and violence.
Lastly, I wish to emphasise the role and ability of religions to contribute to the building of a better society. One should not be afraid of religions, but one should be afraid of men and women who manipulate them for purposes other than their true purpose. Religions themselves fear such individuals, who distort their message.