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'Polite persecution' of Christians gathers pace in Europe

The culture war in the name of tolerance could remove Europe's soul and leave the continent divided when a crisis emerges

'Polite persecution' of Christians gathers pace in Europe

A cross framed by candles stands on the altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, southwest France. (Photo: AFP)

European communities, with their sprawling churches, ancient cities, culinary skills, dance, music, et al, were once proud of their Christian roots. They slowly became secular in the 20th century and the evolution continues to move in a trajectory of despising the Christian faith and its followers.

When former German chancellor Helmut Kohl suggested that Turkey would never join the European Union (EU), it was hard to dismiss the criticism that he was speaking on behalf of Europe’s Christian fraternity and his concern for preserving a common cultural heritage.

When Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi described it as a Franco-British plot to prevent the princess from marrying a Muslim.

In the past, despite a policy-based separation of church and state, they worked together in crises as hands of the same body. In a secularized society, the state distanced itself from the church in the guise of nationalism and secular policies.

This has led to populist leaders in Europe interpreting religion according to their political views. Their current mantra of “inclusion” excludes the continent’s Christian roots and traditions.

According to liberals, Europe’s strength lies in its diversity, and embracing differences of approach is necessary to prevent another war from taking place among European nations.

In a sermon last April, the pope explained such persecution as state policies that marginalize Christians

In the new millennium, Europe, which is now focused on peaceful trade, is finding Christmas and Christian terminology hard to digest in public places.

On a continent where a whole generation of children grew up without any knowledge of Christianity, the church-state union has become thin, allowing a “velvet-gloved” persecution of Christians “cloaked in politeness,” to borrow the words of Pope Francis.

In a sermon last April, the pope explained such persecution as state policies that marginalize Christians. Such acts are daily acts of violence, he said.

After Europe had become “ashamed of its Christian roots,” subtle acts of violence against Christianity are taking place, Pope Francis explained. Besides legislation, this polite persecution also keeps Christian terminology and symbols at bay.

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The rise of new cultural norms consigns religions “to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or relegates them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques,” Pope Francis said.

Wrapped under the cloak of tolerance and secularism, the polite persecution ultimately serves the purpose of gradual eradication of Christian beliefs from European public life.

Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need, a papal charity, noted an increase in the number of subtle acts of violence taking place in Europe, which used to swear by a common cultural heritage.

“The year 2021 has been marked by gratitude and concern,” wrote Heine-Geldern in a Dec. 27 statement while reacting to its annual Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021.

Citing examples of polite persecution taking place in many Western nations, the report noted that the conscientious objection of health professionals in relation to abortion and euthanasia is no longer meaningfully protected under law in many nations. Similarly, religious schools, and Catholic schools in general, are finding it increasingly hard to follow their own religious ethos.

Debates over Christian identity and the use of words like “Christmas” have reached the public domain in the West and the European Parliament took it for discussion on Dec. 15.

"This is a bogus debate," said Spanish center-left MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, echoing the general view that opposed the termination of the Christian ethos.

The circular, meant for communications in EU institutions and titled 'Union of Equality,' recommended using the expression 'holiday period' in place of 'Christmas period'

On Dec. 7, the EU was forced to retract a controversial circular after the Vatican accused Brussels of trying to cancel Christmas by banning certain Christian terms.

The document is “anachronistic,” Pope Francis said on Dec. 6 during a press conference aboard the papal flight after his four-day visit to Cyprus and Greece. “Throughout history, many, many dictatorships tried to do it,” he added.

The circular, meant for communications in EU institutions and titled “Union of Equality,” recommended using the expression “holiday period” in place of “Christmas period.” The circular also discouraged the use of Christian names such as “Mary” and “John” in public conversation.

The circular was part of a plan championed by EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to make sure that “everyone is valued and recognized” across the 27-member trade bloc.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, came down heavily and stated that the EU document shows “forgetfulness of what is a reality” and “a cancellation of our roots,” especially when it comes to “Christian festivities.”

There is no doubt that Europe is largely a product of Latin Christianity. But the continent is witnessing a shrinking number of practicing Christians and for many Christianity is no more a religion but more a part of their identity.

Nonetheless, the culture war and the polite persecution undertaken in the name of tolerance could remove Europe’s soul and leave the continent divided when another crisis emerges.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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