The force of memory

The 60th anniversary of the Declaration for a new Europe

Europe’s cultural and spiritual roots are called to “give a soul to the Community’s integration process”, as often indicated – and reiterated in the past days- by Jacques Delors, EU Commission President in the 1980s and 1990s. The celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration were marked by the renewed appeal to bring “memory” close to “the present and the future” of the EU, with the participation of citizens, civil society and religious communities “in the largest process of rapprochement of peoples and States” that has ever occurred. The Treaty and the Christian roots. Prayers for the unity of Europe were recited in the gothic cathedrals of Metz and Verdun, on Schuman’s tomb in Scy-Chazelles, at the memorial of Douaumont, which bears the memory of one of the most tragic battles of World War I. In his speech for the celebrations, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, said there that Europe and Christianity “share the same destiny and the same mission”. In the process of integration, “it is necessary to point out the common values” present in the Continent, while respecting “cultural and religious diversities”, that can promote the construction of the EU. His Eminence highlighted the meaning of article 17 of the Treaty of Lisbon that came into force a few months ago, which defines relations between the European Union and the Churches. Political and religious communities, the cardinal said, “are called to cooperate, operating for the good of all citizens”. His Eminence underlined the “Christian roots marking the history of our Continent”, and the “meaningful presence of the Catholic Church” beside the other expressions of Christianity and other religions. “Article 17 – he stated – regulates relations between the EU and Churches”, and emphasizes “the constant, open and clear contributions” that religious can convey to European institutions.Memory and topical relevance. Also Fr. Cédric Burgun, President of the Organization Committee of the initiative titled “Le neuf en Europe” delved into “the rediscovery and enhancement of memory” in order to “transmit the founding values of Europe and direct our glance to the future. Conferences, films, meetings with the youth and various spiritual gatherings were the guidelines of the program jointly developed with a number of initiatives across the EU to celebrate the Schuman plan. In Metz and Verdun also convened scholars and politicians that addressed the heritage of the Declaration in terms of the construction of the European Union. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former President of the Republic of Latvia, and vice-President of the Reflection group on the future of Europe (set up by the EU) underlined some aspects of the “vision” of Schuman, highlighting its “topical relevance” as compared to the current challenges “present across the old continent”. According to the speaker, the then foreign Minister “prefigured and operated to create a united Europe, capable of overcoming the divisions caused by the war and capable of bringing about peace and well-being”. He had envisaged a unity that could comprise “the Western and Eastern areas” of the old continent, “despite the division created by the Iron Curtain”. Dr. Freiberga underscored “the task to involve all citizens in this project, along with civil society and cultures, in full respect of diversity with our glance extended to the rest of the world”. “Concrete objectives must be pursued in this direction”, as “indicated by the ongoing economic crisis” and “as Schuman had taught with his idea of Europe”. Recovering values for the “Common home”. “Today – added Freiberga – we have the cult of consumerism and materialism. Indeed, we must recover the moral and spiritual values capable of nourishing a solid European democracy”. French politician and former EU Commissioner Jacques Barrot also underlined this aspect: “We must combat egoism, nationalism and populism that are rising on the European scene. Only in this way will we be able to transform the European Community in a robust and long-lasting building”. Barrot recalled that “the principle of solidarity” constitutes the Declaration’s “foundations” and that this lesson “remains valid for the current scenario”, especially if we consider “the economic crisis, migration flows, and the commitment for poor countries outside our continent”. Alojz Peterle, ex prime minister of Slovenia and MEP addressed the questions of “political reconciliation” and “European identity”: “Also Christians feel the need to reconcile themselves with their own identity, and with their own values”. The latter – human dignity, solidarity, freedom, responsibility… “ought to be cultivated and transmitted, so that they may contribute ever more the common patrimony of the EU”.

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