VATICAN CITY: March 24, 2007. (AP) Europe seems to be losing faith in its future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, citing the population trends of continent, which include generally low birth rates.
"One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told a gathering of the continent`s bishops.
The bishops were in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which marked the start of the Common Market, forerunner of today European Union.
Benedict did not elaborate on the population trends, but the continent`s demographics have been under intense scrutiny for decades.
In countries like Italy, where many married couples have one or no children, the population is expected to shrink dramatically in a generation or two unless the birth rate increases rapidly. Immigrant populations have generally kept the birth rates from decreasing even more.
Benedict said Europe`s population trends, "besides putting economic growth at risk, can also cause enormous difficulties for social cohesion, and, above all, favor dangerous individualism, careless about the consequences for the future."
"You could almost think that the European continent is in fact losing faith in its own future," Benedict said.
The pontiff noted differences across the continent about Europe`s unification process, which, he said, gives the impression that "various chapters of the European project have been written without taking into adequate consideration the expectations of the citizens."
Continuing a campaign by his predecessor, John Paul II, Benedict has been urging Europeans to keep alive Christian roots. The Vatican had campaigned vigorously to have those roots cited in the EU constitution, but drafters of the text rejected the idea. The constitution itself was voted down by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.
"You cannot think of constructing a common European `house,` neglecting the very identity of the peoples of our continent," said the German-born pontiff.
Benedict said Europe should be on guard against "that practical attitude, widely diffused today, which systematically justifies compromises on essential human values."
Such an attitude could wind up "denying Christians the very right to intervene as such (Christians) in the public debate," Benedict said. He urged Europe to safeguard rights of conscientious objectors, "whenever fundamental human rights are violated."
Italian church leaders recently urged Catholics to declare themselves conscientious objectors if necessary to avoid any role in policies which contradict the Vatican, including abortion and proposed legislation to give many legal rights to unmarried couples, including same-sex ones.