The Catholic University of America

Feb. 4, 2010

Cardinal Schönborn Explores Christianity’s Role in Europe in CUA Address


Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses a standing-room only crowd during his speech at Catholic University.

In a speech at Catholic University, the leader of the Archdiocese of Vienna expressed optimism for the future of Christianity in Europe, despite signs of a growing estrangement with religion.

“I see the situation of Christianity in Europe rather exciting and full of opportunities,” Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., said in a Feb. 3 appearance before an overflow crowd at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center.

“Christianity’s place in Europe is paradoxical,” said the cardinal, who also serves as president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference. While Christianity has begun to play a secondary role in public life, he said, “Christianity is not obsolete in a continent that still has ample spiritual resources. There is a new desire (by people) that turns at least sometimes explicitly toward Christianity.”

While Christianity might seem foreign in a modern world, he said, “it still evokes a feeling of home to many. Europe has a constantly increasing number of people who, after living a fully secular lifestyle, find a way back home” to the Christian faith.

A leading intellectual in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Schönborn focused his hour-long address on whether Christianity is an alien presence in Europe or whether it is the foundation of the continent.

“My answer,” he said, “is that it is both. On the one hand, Christianity is Europe’s roots. On the other hand, these roots are more and more forgotten, ignored, and in an alarming way. Christianity is for many a foreign element in a world determined by reason, enlightenment and democratic principles.”

The cardinal said he believes that Europe, and the Western World, will not survive without Christianity. Europe can only play its role in the world conscience if it retains Christianity as part of its identity, he added.

Noting that the 27-member European Union does not include Christianity in its constitution, Cardinal Schönborn described the decline of Christianity as shocking. Europe has become the least religious continent in the world, he said.

A theologian well known for his work on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Schönborn delved into the history of Europe and its relationship with Christianity during his lecture, looking to past events and lessons for hints of what the future will bring to the area.

Cardinal Schonborn with (from left) Provost James Brennan; Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., dean of canon law; Very Rev. David O’Connell, president; and Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of theology.

The cardinal was introduced by Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, who noted that the scholar was last at CUA about 15 years ago.

Cardinal Schönborn, 65, began his remarks by thanking the audience for a standing ovation, a reference to the standing-room only crowd of students, seminarians, clergy, religious and faculty who came to hear him speak. Among those attending was the Austrian ambassador to the United States.

The cardinal’s appearance was arranged by Rev. Kurt Pritzl, O.P., dean of the School of Philosophy and, like Cardinal Schönborn, a member of the Dominican Order. The lecture was sponsored by CUA’s schools of theology and religious studies, canon law and philosophy, which offer ecclesiastical degrees authorized by the Vatican.

The visit to CUA came during a six-day visit to the United States by the cardinal, who also made stops in Kansas City and New York City.

While focusing his remarks on his home continent, Cardinal Schönborn, declared: “What is relevant for Europe is also relevant for the United States and vice versa. I’m convinced we must work together in our responsibilities as Christians here and there.”

He ended his remarks with an observation about the United States and a plea. “For the Catholic Church, you are a country of great hope. … There is a true renewal of Catholic commitment in this country, and this gives us great hope. I hope you do not forget in your prayers good old mother Europe.”