Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, told Pope Benedict XVI that he fears Europe is losing its Judeo-Christian heritage.
“We are very concerned obviously with the soul of Europe, I mean Europe was built on Judeo-Christian foundations, even the market was built on Judeo-Christian foundations,” he told Vatican Radio in an interview following his private audience with the Pope Dec. 12.
The 63-year-old Englishman, who was elevated to the British House of Lords in 2009, stated that Judeo-Christian roots best historically explain why the West has outstripped other cultures both politically and economically.
He also believes that while religious leaders have “no power” in the modern world, they still “have a great deal of influence.” Rabbi Sacks said the Pope’s influence was why he came to visit him, “because I think if Jewish and Christian voices are heard, along parallel lines, then they should not underestimate the influence they have.”
Rabbi Sacks said he saw this influence in action last year during Pope Benedict’s four-day visit to Scotland and England when “everyone was amazed that the interest was so acute and so widespread.”
Religious leaders “should not aspire to political power,” he said, but they are engaged in “talking to people, especially when they’re thinking, ‘what kind of answer do I want to give to the meaning of life and what kind of value system do I want for my children?’”
It is Rabbi Sack’s belief that Europe is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the answered offered by secularism and materialism – two factors he has blamed in the past for a rise in selfishness and the decline in the birthrate.
Many people, he said, are now wondering if “there is something lacking in the wider secular culture where all that matters is ‘what I am, what I spend, what I buy, what I earn,’ instead of ‘what I am.’” One practical outcome in the Jewish community has been an increase in the number of parents choosing to send their children to Jewish schools.
He also wants to foster a united Judeo-Christian front against both anti-Jewish and anti-Christian persecution around the world. In fact, just last week he spoke during a debate in the British House of Lords in which he condemned Christian persecution in the Middle East.
“It is important that Jews, the British Jews, the European Jewish community stand in solidarity with Christians where they face persecution,” he said to Vatican Radio.