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Europe Urged to Recognize Christian Heritage

As Europe increasingly embraced secularism and its new multicultural image, believers were reminded the past week of the continent's Christian roots.

Two high-profile Christian events last week recalled the impact of Christianity on Europe and the need for its citizens to acknowledge the importance of the faith.

"Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots," declared Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, stating that Christianity has "profoundly shaped this continent," according to The Associated Press.

Benedict spoke in Vienna, Austria, as part of his three-day pilgrimage to the country which was once the center of a Roman Catholic-influence empire but is now a small nation with significant opposition to the church, as is the case with most of Europe.

A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey found that while six out of 10 Americans responded yes to "Religion is very important to me," a significantly lower percentage was found in Europe.

In Great Britain, 33 percent of those polled said religion was "very important" in their lives, compared to 27 percent in Italy, 21 percent in Germany, 11 percent in France, and 11 percent in Czech Republic.

Thousands of Austrian Catholics in recent years have renounced their church affiliation, citing revulsion with clergy sex scandals and opposition to a highly unpopular government-imposed church tax, according to AP.

A Gallup opinion poll published in Oesterreich newspaper Sunday stated that only 47 percent of Austrians are satisfied with the pope's way of running the Catholic Church.
The pontiff's trip was partially aimed at reaching out to disillusioned Catholics not only in Austria but across Europe.

Meanwhile, in the Romanian city of Sibiu, over 2,000 Christian leaders from across Europe gathered to share common visions and hopes for renewal and unity on a continent that both secular and religious press have described as "post-Christian."

The Third European Ecumenical Assembly was hosted in a city where the significance of the church in European history can be clearly seen with a Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic Church all located in close proximity.

During the assembly, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso acknowledged Europe's Christian roots.

"Christianity is obviously part of our great heritage in Europe. This is a historic fact," said Barroso last Thursday, according to Ecumenical News International.

However, he quickly acknowledged that "it is also true that Europe is made up of diversity."

"We have many Muslims and we also have many people who have no religion at all," noted Barroso.

"What would be wrong is to pretend that religion does not exist in our society. That would be a big mistake."

The European Union offical also praised churches for promoting unity in Europe.

"Your churches and confessional communities can contribute, and make a real contribution, to a better understanding between people through promoting mutual respect in a context of shared values," said Barroso.

The Third European Ecumenical Assembly, which began last Tuesday concluded Sunday, was organized jointly by the Roman Catholic bishops' conference of Europe (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC) – which groups most Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox churches in Europe.

According to reports, European identity, other faiths, migration, creation, justice and peace were on the agenda for the ecumenical assembly, alongside questions of unity, spirituality and witness.

In addition to Barroso, speakers included the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

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