Rethinking Europe: Pope Francis calls for unity and dialogue

Christians are called to promote political dialogue, especially where it is threatened and where conflict seems to prevail,” Pope Francis told 350 participants at an international conference in the Vatican on the Christian contribution to the future of Europe.

Nov 10, 2017

By Gerard O’Connell
Like his predecessors — John Paul II and Benedict XVI — Pope Francis is deeply concerned about the crisis that the old continent, which has given so much to humanity and to the Church over the centuries, is going through. He told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, in November 2014 that it has become a “grandmother.” He is convinced, however, that if the EU returns to its roots, it can become a “mother” that generates, once again, and can give new life, hope and peace, not only to Europe, but also to the world as he made clear in two subsequent talks.

The first came in May 2016, when he delivered his I have a dream for Europe speech in the Vatican on receiving the Charlemagne Prize. The second came in March 2017, when he addressed the prime ministers of 27 of the 28 European states (the British prime minister was absent), again in the Vatican, as they celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundation for what is today known as the EU.

Francis began this fourth major address by thanking the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and its president Cardinal Reinhard Marx, for sponsoring this important dialogue, which was held in the Vatican Oct 27-28, and which has brought together high-level Church and political leaders, as well as representatives from the academic world and civil society. He also greeted Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, and thanked him for welcoming him to this wide-ranging reflection on the future of Europe.

He told them that, to speak of a Christian contribution to the future of the continent means, to consider “our responsibility at a time when the face of Europe is increasingly distinguished by a plurality of cultures and religions while, for many people, Christianity is regarded as a thing of the past, both alien and irrelevant.”

Pope Francis said that “the first and greatest contribution that Christians can make to today’s Europe is to remind her that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions but is made up of people.” But, he added, “sadly, we see how frequently issues get reduced to discussions about numbers. There are no citizens, only votes.

There are no migrants, only quotas. There are no workers, only economic markers. There are no poor, only thresholds of poverty. The concrete reality of the human person is thus reduced to an abstract — and, thus, a more comfortable and reassuring — principle,” he stated in a direct critique of what is happening in the EU today. “The reason for this is clear,” he said, “people have faces; they force us to assume a responsibility that is real, personal and effective. Statistics, however useful and important, are arguments; they are soulless. They offer an alibi for not getting involved, because they never touch us in the flesh.”

He recalled that Saint Benedict, the patron of Europe, was not concerned about social status, riches, or power; for him “the important thing was not functions but persons” and this too is “one of the foundational values brought by Christianity: the sense of the person created in the image of God.” Indeed, “to acknowledge that others are persons means to value what unites us to them. To be a person connects us with others; it makes us a community.”

In this context, Francis said, the second major contribution that Christians can make to the future of Europe “is to help recover the sense of belonging to a community.” He reminded them that “it is not by chance that the founders of the European project chose that very word to identify the new political subject coming into being. Community is the greatest antidote to the forms of individualism typical of our times, to that widespread tendency in the West to see oneself and one’s life in isolation from others. The concept of freedom is misunderstood and seen as if it were a right to be left alone, free from all bonds. As a result, a deracinated society has grown up, lacking a sense of belonging and of its own past” and, he added, “for me this is serious!”

Pope Francis underlined that “person and community are, thus, the foundations of the Europe that we, as Christians, want and can contribute to building” and “the bricks of this structure are dialogue, inclusion, solidarity, development and peace.”--America Magazine

--Continued from last week

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