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World News

Vatican accuses EU of airbrushing out Christmas

by Donna Birrell

The European Union is being accused of trying to air-brush Christianity out of an official document.

The Vatican complained after the document - on inclusive language - replaced the word 'Christmas' with 'holiday period'. It also recommended names typical to a specific religion such as 'Mary' and 'John' should no longer be used.

The document, entitled 'Union of Equality' was aimed at avoiding discrimination and promoting inclusivity, but it has now been withdrawn.

Christopher Lamb is Rome Correspondent for the Catholic newspaper The Tablet. He's been giving his view to Premier.

"The EU has tried to go down a route of removing the word Christmas. They seem to be taking out the religious references, and it seems to be a document based around a lot of political correctness. I do note that they have now withdrawn it, but obviously these things sometimes hint at a deeper mindset which the Vatican is not very happy about."

"I think it's an example of society - particularly the west - and cultures losing touch with their roots. For many people Christmas is not particularly religious.  As a festival, it's very much a consumerist festival rather than anything else. So I think this does suggest that perhaps there's a move to say, 'Well, look maybe Christmas has religious roots, but actually, it's not really about that anymore. It's about something else.' But clearly, there's a much deeper question about whether you can actually cut something that is so profoundly religious from its roots. I think that's what some in the church and church leaders are concerned about."

It's the latest in efforts to downplay Christmas as a key part of the Christian message.  

Last weekend, there were reports that civil servants had blocked the word 'Christmas' from efforts to avert a winter covid crisis, as they feared it would offend minority religions.

The Mail on Sunday said ministers had planned a publicity campaign telling students to get tested before returning to their families using the slogan: 'Don't take covid home for Christmas' - but it was said to have been vetoed by Cabinet Office officials.

In the late 1990s Birmingham City Council also replaced the word 'Christmas' with 'Winterval' in a publicity campaign.

But Christopher Lamb says we should use the controversy as a chance to reflect the real meaning of Christmas.

"I think it's an opportunity to talk about the religious foundations of the Christmas Festival and the incarnation. I don't think it should be seen as all doom and gloom.

"As our culture, particularly in the UK and Northern Europe becomes more secular, there are going to be more attempts to sever our communities and societies from the religious roots of certain festivals. But I think at the same time, it offers an opportunity to discuss them more deeply and to bring them to the fore. That's where I think the church must play a role in trying to outline and explain more clearly, the religious roots of Christmas and what it means. What the birth of Jesus, means for the world and what that means in terms of faith and hope. 

"I think after a pandemic, in the light of the Channel crossings and people dying as they try and seek a better life, the Christmas message of hope, the Christmas message that out of the darkness comes the light of Jesus, that message is needed more than ever.  That's something that I think can really resonate with people, beyond the consumerism and beyond the attempts to sort of try and turn Christmas into just a few days of holiday.

"I would like to see more creativity from religious leaders and more imagination about how to bring to light, what the message of Christmas, and the message of Jesus birth means today in the 21st century, and I think there are so many opportunities with which to do that, so many platforms across social media, so many digital channels with which to do that. I'd like to see church leaders make the most of that opportunity. 

"All human beings need hope, we all need to have something to cling on to, we all need something deeper than just the material. That's where I think the church must try and find new creative ways. I don't think you can simply get up on the soapbox or from the pulpit and condemn commercialization of Christmas. 

"I think what the Vatican have been concerned about for some time is that at the European Union level, there has been this ignoring of the Christian roots of the European Union and its institutions. It was politicians after the Second World War, who were inspired by Catholic social teaching, they wanted to bring peace to Europe, very much motivated by their faith to try and bring countries together, which inspired the European Union. So I think for the Vatican to see Christianity being air-brushed out of the European Union institutions is something that is concerning. Pope John Paul, the second was very critical of the draft European Union constitution, which didn't include God in it. So there has been a long concern from the Vatican about Europe losing its Christian roots and losing its identity. I think that's something that is clearly at play here and something that the Vatican have wanted to raise."

Speaking ahead of the document's retraction, the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin said: 

"I believe that the concern to erase all discrimination is right. However, in my opinion, this is not the way to achieve this goal…..there is the cancellation of our roots, the Christian dimension of our Europe, especially with regard to Christian festivals. Of course, we know that Europe owes its existence and its identity to many influences, but we certainly cannot forget that one of the main influences, if not the main one, was Christianity itself. Therefore, destroying the difference and destroying the roots means precisely to destroy the person."


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