New Entrants of EU Bring back Christian faith to Europe

( [email protected] ) Apr 28, 2004 04:18 PM EDT

The European Union (EU) is ready to expand on this Saturday, May 1. It is going to incorporate 10 new countries coming from the central and Eastern Europe.

The new arrivals, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, will increase the EU's membership to 25 countries.

It is encouraging because most of these new entrants have a stronger Christian faith background than the original EU members in its Western counterparts. "In the 10 new member states, the number of believers is much higher than in the majority of western countries," Tadeusz Szawiela, a religious sociologist at Warsaw University.

From Poland and Slovakia in central Europe, to Lithuania in the Baltics and the Mediterranean island of Malta, the new EU entrants all have more people practicising religion than current EU members.

Even current EU members with large numbers of Catholics or Protestants, practise their faith less than their eastern counterparts.

While 31 percent of Dutch people, for example, say they are Catholic, only eight percent of them are practising, while of 21 percent of stated Protestants, only nine percent go to church.

France and Belgium, countries with large Roman Catholic populations, have to bring in priests from central Europe.

Slovakia has gone through a religious revival, after 40 years of persecution by the communist authorities, with the number of people belonging to a Christian religion, mainly Roman Catholicism, increasing by 11 percent in 10 years, to 84 percent of the population in 2001.

Christian leaders in Europe and America have been challenged by secularisation in Christendom in the wake of declining number of churchgoers. The threat arises by many means but the most significant one might be the conflict between the secular politics’ governance and Christian values.

The debates on gay clergy ordination, abortion, civil union and so on have shown the risk of secularisation in Europe, which used to have strong Christian heritage. In early March, the Pope has also drawn the attention of EU leaders to the Christian heritage in Europe before they make the first constitution.

Through the new EU entrants, millions of Christians will bring their faith with them, hoping the prosperity membership can help to lower the risk of secularisation.

But on the other pessimistic scenarios, in the run-up to EU enlargement religious leaders have expressed fears that people might lose their faith as they become richer and more attached to the consumer society.

"Countries like Poland, Malta, Slovakia or Lithuania, will they follow the example of Ireland, where we have seen a decrease in religiousness, once the traditionally Catholic country has gained prosperity," sociologist Szawiela said.

"If wealth comes suddenly, secularism will follow. If, however, the standard of living improves gradually, which will probably be the case, the churches should keep their faithful," he said.