By Hilary White

ROME, September 28, 2009 ( – From his first address after landing at Prague's airport on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the need to reassert the Christian nature of Europe's heritage and culture during his recently concluded visit to the Czech Republic.

At his airport address on Saturday, the pope said that now that religious freedom has been restored after the collapse of Soviet communism, “I call upon all the citizens of this Republic to rediscover the Christian traditions which have shaped their culture.”

“Only those who maintain in their hearts a holy 'fear of God' can also put their trust in man and spend their lives building a more just and fraternal world,” the pope told a congregation today.

In his address to the Czech government and diplomatic service at the Presidential Palace of Prague
on Saturday, Pope Benedict took up the theme again, speaking of the “the irreplaceable role of Christianity” in the formation of a just society. He acknowledged the “voice of those who today, across this country and continent, seek to apply their faith respectfully yet decisively in the public arena.”

The pope told officials that the “Christian roots” of their country “have nourished a remarkable spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and cooperation which has enabled the people of these lands to find freedom and to usher in a new beginning, a new synthesis, a renewal of hope. Is it not precisely this spirit that contemporary Europe requires?”

Speaking to priests, seminarians and members of religious orders at the Cathedral of Saints Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert later that day, Benedict made reference to the long history of Czech martyrs, including those who died resisting Communism. He said, “Society continues to suffer from the wounds caused by atheist ideology, and it is often seduced by the modern mentality of hedonistic consumerism amid a dangerous crisis of human and religious values and a growing drift towards ethical and cultural relativism.”

At the large outdoor Mass held at Turany airport at Brno on Sunday, Benedict came back to the subject again, referring to modern “cultural conditions” that have been relegated strictly to the private sphere of life, while in public life “scientific and economic progress” take precedence.

The theme of the re-Christianization of a Europe that has become mired in secularism and moral relativism has been one of the central defining ideas of Benedict's pontificate. In his now famous homily, addressed to the college of cardinals in April 2005 just days before his election, then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned of the growth of a “dictatorship of relativism” “which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires.”

In 2004, the leadership of the European Union indicated their deep opposition to this program of Re-Christianization, however, by refusing to include a single reference to God or to Europe's Christian roots in the proposed EU constitution. The Czech Republic was part of a coalition of countries, with Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia, that tried to force the inclusion of mention of Christianity in the preamble of the EU constitution in 2004. Strongly opposed to this movement were the governments of France and Belgium. In the end, the constitution mentioned only the “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe.”