ROOTS OF EUROPE
I witnessed an unusual ceremony of granting the title of the Honoured Canon of the Basilica of St. John on Lateran to the president of France Nicolas Sarkozy. The ceremony was held on 20 December 2007. The honour had been received by king Henry IV in 1604, and at our times it is received by presidents as the successors of kings of France, ‘the oldest daughter of the Church’. Before that it was received by: Charles de Gaulle, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, and Jacques Chirac, but the presidents who did not want to receive it were: Rene Coty, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterand. Since the times of Henry IV, every 13 December, on the feast of St. Lucia in the arch-basilica on Lateran, the papal Holy Mass is celebrated in the intention of ‘happiness and welfare in France’. During the ceremony which was held in the Lateran Palace, Sarkozy gave a memorable speech. It was the first time I had heard the French president speaking about Christian roots of France, and also about positive secularism which does not think that religion is threatening, but as a valuable thing. Sarkozy said: ‘Secularism cannot be negation of the past. It has got the right to separate France from its Christian roots. It was trying to do it, but it should not. Like Benedict XVI I think that the nation which ignores ethical, spiritual, religious heritage of its history, commits a crime against culture, against the mixture of history, heritage, art, and folk traditions which penetrates our lifestyle and way of thinking deeply. Removing roots means losing sense, weakening the binder of the national identity and weakening social relations which do need symbols of memory’. And then he added: ‘we must accept Christian roots of France and even raise their value, still defending secularism which has finally got mature’. In his speech the president said the memorable words: ‘For a long time the laic republic has not appreciated spiritual aspirations’ but now ‘France needs the Catholics with strong faith who are not afraid to say who they are and what they believe’. The important speech of the previous president of France – Nicolas Sarkozy are about aggressive secularism of the new governing team of president Francois Holland and I talked to cardinal Paul Poupard,a historian of religion, one of the closest cooperators of John Paul II, a previous rector of the Catholic Institute in Paris, the retired chairperson of the Papal Council for Culture and the Papal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
An interview – on next pages of ‘Sunday’