The president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, says that in parts of Europe, such as the western Balkans, where internecine "wounds still require healing", spiritual leaders need to be involved in the process.
Pöttering, from Germany, made his remarks on 5 May in a yearly meeting the president of the parliament holds with religious leaders in the European capital.
"The power of religious authorities to make a significant contribution, through wise leadership, to tackling some of today's major challenges should not be underestimated," Pöttering told the Jewish, Islamic and Christian leaders at the Brussels meeting.
He noted that churches had always been strong supporters of European integration especially during the period of Franco-German reconciliation after the Second World War and in later developments.
"In those parts of our European continent where inter-community wounds still require healing including the western Balkans, it is essential to involve community spiritual leaders in the process," said the European Parliament president.
He noted that 2008 is the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and the role which religions can play in reconciliation was a fitting theme.
"True dialogue means each component of society is able to express its point of view with respect for the other," said Pöttering who is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party. "Consensus can then emerge," he said.
He added, "I firmly believe that the European Union, as well as our neighbours, can benefit greatly from dialogue between religions … You have a great responsibility in seeking to present an understanding of faith in terms of peaceful coexistence and reconciliation."
Religious leaders, he said, can help build a world founded on respect for human dignity.
"In these modern times, when relativism often risks undermining our society, I am sure that many people take sustenance from their religious beliefs to inform them in their reasoned decision-making," said Pöttering, who is a Roman Catholic.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]