BRATISLAVA (Times of India) - Stanislav Zvolensky, the Roman Catholic archbishop of the Slovak capital here, was thrilled when he was invited to Brussels three years ago to discuss the fight against poverty with the insistently secular bureaucracy of the European Union. "They let me in wearing my cross," the archbishop recalled.
It therefore came as a rude surprise when, late last year, the National Bank of Slovakia announced that the European Commission (EC), the union's executive arm, had ordered it to remove halos and crosses from special commemorative euro coins due to be minted this summer. The coins were intended to celebrate the 1,150th anniversary of Christianity's arrival in Slovak lands but have instead become tokens of the faith's retreat from contemporary Europe.
"There is a movement in the EU that wants total religious neutrality and can't accept our Christian traditions," said Zvolensky, bemoaning what he sees as rising a tide of militant secularism.
In a continent divided by many languages, vast differences of culture and economic gaps, the archbishop said that centuries of Christianity provide a rare element shared by all of the soon-to-be 28 members of the fractious union. Croatia, a mostly Catholic nation like Slovakia, joins next month.
Yet at a time when Europe needs solidarity and a unified sense of purpose to grapple with economic crisis, religion has instead become yet another a source of discord. It divides mostly secular Western Europe from profoundly religious nations in the east like Poland and those in between both in geography and in faith like Slovakia.
In nearly all of Europe, assertive secularists and beleaguered believers battle to make their voices heard. This leaves the EC under attack from all sides, denounced by atheists for even its timid engagement with religion and by nationalist Christian fundamentalists as an agent of Satan.