DOHA, Qatar — Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican's chief archivist and librarian, is a veteran hand when it comes to assessing international issues from the perspective of the Catholic Church — from 1990-2003, he served as the Vatican's foreign minister.

Cardinal Tauran spoke with Register correspondent Joan Lewis in May during the Qatar Conference on Muslim-Christian Dialogue about the recent expansion of the European Union, Europe's Christian heritage and the continuing conflicts in the Holy Land and Iraq.

Your Eminence, what are your thoughts on the May 1 enlargement of the European Union, when 10 new nations joined the EU, bringing the total to 25 members?

I would not speak so much of an enlargement as of a return, a return of countries that were excluded for so many years from their natural milieu. It was an exchange of gifts because, by returning to Europe, these new members are bringing with them their great cultural and historical wealth. These are factors that enrich, not disturb.

It is surely a very important page in European history.

Several of these countries lived for more than 50 years under a communist regime, a cumbersome legacy that some say is causing Europe to now move forward at different speeds. Do you share that opinion?

Certainly. It will be a far more complex exercise when you have 25 voices making decisions; thus, formulas will have to be found that allow every member country to feel it is a partner with full rights. Until this happens, however, the formulas must be realistic because we are talking about countries with very different experiences.

Politics is the art of the possible; therefore, I am confident this will happen.

For more than a year now, as often as he could do so, Pope John Paul II has pointed to the importance of mentioning Europe's Christian roots in the new European Constitution. There are many in Europe who do not want this — or any mention of religion — included. Your thoughts?

The writers of the European Constitution wished to preface it with a preamble that gave a vision of Europe's past history. In rereading [this history] no one could deny that Christianity was the only religion that contributed to the formation of European institutions. Let's not forget that the first school was born at the court of Charlemagne through the efforts of a monk, Alcuin; this is an undisputed fact. The first universities were founded by the Church.

And I always think of the fact that the first exercise in direct democracy was the election of abbots in Benedictine monasteries. Paul VI, in fact, in a phrase that has been quoted by Pope John Paul II, used to say that Europe was born from a cross, a book and a plow, a reference to Benedictine spirituality. We must also think of pilgrimages, of the Latin language as cultural factors that have modeled Europe's physiognomy. History should be read, or read again where necessary.

Having served in the Middle East in the diplomatic corps of the Holy See — especially your years in Lebanon — you know better than most the realities of that area, in particular the problems of the Christians who live there.

No one can deny that there has been a hemorrhage of Christians from this part of the world. Partly because there are situations there that have lasted for many years and no one can ask that people be or become heroes. There are hot spots in the Holy Land and in Lebanon concerning Christians.

What we want to avoid is that the holy places turn into museums; rather, they must be living realities with Christian communities that actively function, and we want Lebanon to continue to be the laboratory of dialogue that it has been up to now, where Christians are equal partners with the faithful of other religions.

Christians in the Middle East continue to receive all the necessary attention on the part of the Holy See. We are interested in seeing Christians witness to their faith in the midst of other believers.

What role can the United Nations play in solving the crises in Iraq and in the Holy Land?

I believe that never before in history have actors on the international scene possessed such refined juridical instruments, such as U.N. resolutions, international conventions and the like. What is missing is the political will to apply these instruments.

The United Nations does not exist, but what does exist is the will of the 191 members that comprise it. Therefore, a reform of the United Nations is necessary, but we must be careful not to destroy it. Decisions must be made according to law and to justice. I would be careful of demonizing the United Nations and of giving it powers it does not have.

As far as the Holy Land is concerned, I believe the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is the mother of all crises. When this is settled, all problems will be resolved.

And Iraq?

I think the United Nations is the only institution capable of accompanying the transition of Iraq toward popular sovereignty. Two or three countries by themselves cannot impose order on the world.

All we need to do is go back and read the U.N. Charter, a document that no one seems to read or remember. Within the charter we have all the elements necessary for a solution.

Joan Lewis works for Vatican Information Service.