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Pope says EU constitution should cite Christian heritage

VATICAN CITY, June 28 (AFP) - Pope John Paul II said on Saturday the European Union's future constitution should provide for religious rights and renewed his oft-repeated call for the draft to include a reference to Europe's Christian roots.

Las week EU leaders endorsed a draft version of the bloc's first constitution and the final text is due to be hammered out by an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) starting in October.

The pope, who released 140-page apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa (the Church in Europe), said he "fully (respected) the secular nature of the (EU) institutions," but that the blueprint should spell out three specific aspects of religious rights, including:

-- acknowledge the right of churches and religious communities to organise freely;

-- recognise the specific idendity of each confession and provide for "a structured dialogue" between these confessions and the EU;

-- extend across the EU the legal status enjoyed by churches and religious institutions in individual member states.

The Vatican has been highly critical of the draft constitution because it contains no direct reference to Christianity.

"I wish once more to appeal to those drawing up the future European Constitutional Treaty so that it will include a reference to the religion and in particular to the Christian heritage of Europe," said the 83-year-old pontiff.

High-ranking officials from the Church of England and Orthodox Churches across Eastern Europe, including Greece, Russia and Romania, have backed the pope's urgings to include a clear reference to Europe's Christian heritage in the draft.

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