Patriarch asks for Christian reference in EU Constitution

ISTANBUL – Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, yesterday urged EU leaders to refer to Europe’s Christian heritage in the bloc’s new constitution. Vartholomaios, who was addressing a forum that included EU lawmakers at a conference in Istanbul, said Europe should not forget its spiritual roots. «The proposed constitution should contain an express reference to the Christian heritage of Europe, through which the principles and values of the Biblical and Greco-Roman tradition have been perpetuated and which… constitutes the foundation on which the modern European structure has been built,» Vartholomaios said. The remarks also came as EU leaders began a two-day summit yesterday focusing on the draft constitution and other issues in Brussels. Vartholomaios criticized modern secular political thought that excludes religion. He said failure to guarantee the institutional role of religion in society «constitutes a deficit within the context of the democratic political system today.» «Secularized political theory of modern times… (was) not strong enough to strike at the historic depth of the European people’s memory or cut them off from their timeless cultural and spiritual heritage,» Vartholomaios added. Vartholomaios, an ethnic Greek and Turkish citizen, is considered first among equals among Orthodox patriarchs. The Patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453. Vartholomaios, an advocate of inter-religious dialogue and warmer relations with the Roman Catholic Church, also congratulated Pope John Paul II, who celebrated his 25th anniversary as pope yesterday. «We pray for his health and the continuation of his most blessed ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, for the benefit of the whole of Christianity and for peace and stability in the world,» Vartholomaios said.