To combat neo-paganism in Europe and guarantee the continent’s future, Catholics must follow the example of St. Agnes of Rome and courageously witness to the faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has said.

Referring to recent controversies, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also said a politician who “symbolically holds up the Rosary is more to be trusted than one who literally takes down the Cross of Christ.”

Cardinal Müller made the comments during a homily in his titular church of Sant’Agnese in Agone in Rome this evening on the feast day of the third-century saint.

He recalled how Catholics admire the “heroic courage” of St. Agnes, who suffered martyrdom at the age of 12 during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, and the fact that in childhood she was able to “distinguish between the unique and true God and the many false gods of the pagans.”

Recalling how other early Christians also sacrificed their lives to bring the faith to ancient pagan Rome, the German cardinal noted how many people today have “forgotten — or consciously cut off — their Christian roots,” and create a “neo-pagan replacement religion” in the form of the “cosmos, our planet, evolution, the internet and technology.”

They act as if such “passing realities” somehow give man the “final foundation and stronghold,” and congratulate themselves for the “purported scientific insight” that man is “merely an animal and that after death everything ends.”

But St. Agnes, he said, “encourages us” to witness to the faith “without fear of men.”

“Only in Christianity does the future of Italy lie” and “neo-paganism is her sure doom,” he continued, adding “it is a vain effort to have dialogues with the old [Eugenio] Scalfari when the atheist concluded from them, and in a confused manner, that the Pope had denied the divinity of Christ.”

The cardinal was referring to Pope Francis’ frequent interviews with the 95-year-old communist atheist founder of the Italian daily La Repubblica newspaper.

In one of the most recently reported encounters, Scalfari alleged the Pope does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ but in the ‘semblance of a spirit.’ The Vatican said Scalfari’s report of the interview, which like others was not recorded, are not a “faithful account” of what was said but rather a “personal and free interpretation.”

Cardinal Müller said such interviews are a “vain effort” because only by “witnessing, with Saint Peter, by day and night: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God’” does a pope speak as “pope of the entire Catholic Church.”

He went on to urge Catholics to “work together” with those who are “intellectually and morally capable” to bear responsibility for the “economic, political, cultural and religious future of Europe” and added that only the “Christian image of man” will bring a “revival of the Eternal City and all of Italy.”    

Cardinal Müller then held up a Rosary and said that a politician who “symbolically holds up the Rosary is more to be trusted than one who literally takes down the Cross of Christ.” His words referred to a controversy last year when Italy’s former deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, often displayed a rosary during public speeches to show his Catholic identity, and proposed making it obligatory for crucifixes to be displayed in public spaces.

Salvini was strongly criticized by papal aide Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who tweeted that the “cross is a sign of protest against sin, violence, injustice and death” and “never a sign of identity.” Father Spadaro also denounced the use of the Rosary in what he saw as political campaigning.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, also opposed similar proposals to make it mandatory for crucifixes to be displayed in the entrance of all Bavarian public buildings in May 2018, earning Cardinal Marx opprobrium from some Church leaders.

Cardinal Müller has expressed sympathy for Salvini in the past, saying last year it is better to talk with him and noting it was “curious that the Pope has received the most secularist people, and not Salvini.” One must “speak with everyone in a spirit of fraternity,” he said. 

In his homily, Cardinal Müller noted that neo-paganism “denies that each man is created in the likeness of God and therefore neo-paganism is hostile toward life.”

He added that the political ideologies of right and left “are not what counts” to a Christian who is not seduced by “neo-pagan natural religions,” or atheistic “neo-liberal and neo-Marxist” ideologies.

“A mature Catholic is not in need of instructions as to which democratic politician he may elect or not,” he explained. “He who believes in God, knows only one Commandment: the love of God and of neighbor.”

The cardinal closed by stressing that Italy and Europe have a future only through a “renewal” of faith in Jesus Christ and “in the Sign of His Cross.”

He called on St. Agnes to pray to the Lord “for your Romans, for Catholic Italy, and for a Christian Europe. Amen.”