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The “strong, clear message of the Gospel” to a Europe turned in on herself

The presentation of the Charlemagne Award to Pope Francis has provided an occasion for a reflection on the Christian presence in the Old Continent. Bergoglio does not surrender to walls, egoism, nationalistic drives, fruitless complaints. He called upon the faithful to undertake a renewed, constructive testimony, with the men and women of our times.

Fear and constructive dialogue; nationalism and virtuous solidarity; sterile anathema and sense of responsibility; resigned disinterest and fruitful participation: infinite binomials and contradictions can be drawn when re-reading the speeches delivered on the occasion of the awarding of the European Charlemagne Prize to Pope Francis. The patient analysis of the Pope’s words and of authorities’ speeches delivered in the Sala Regia of the Vatican Palaces, on 6 May, is well rewarded, providing countless interpretations of the problems currently experienced by the Old Continent and, even more, concrete guidelines to cope with the situation, drafting a plausible answer to widespread malaise and the sense of despair that have gradually taken roots, mainly in relation to the economic and financial crisis and the migration crisis.


Cornered. Marcel Philip, Lord Mayor of Aachen, the German city that confers the prestigious Charlemagne Prize, was one of the most compelling speakers. He lamented “the alarming erosion of the cultural and moral foundation in Europe. We should have realized long ago. Slogans of extreme-right movements and calls for nationalization are gaining grounds in the heart of societies.” He went on: “The consumption pattern of the rich Europe is shameful, blemished by destructive traits.

And suddenly globalization knocks on our door. It has a face that is different from what we would have expected. Its eyes that speak of fear, abandonment, poverty, hunger, disease, war and death. It is the face of a human being.

Those are the faces of many human beings.” The mayor’s speech addressed the history of integration, the theme of shared “values”, along with the problems that are cornering Europe as a whole (peoples, States, EU institutions), apparently unable to tackle the challenges it is confronted with.

Steeped values. Philipp stated in clear terms: “It’s no longer possible to turn a blind eye. Europe must assume its global responsibilities. This does not mean solving all the problems afflicting the world, or being accountable for their outbreak. Rather, it means living the principle of humaneness.” This consequential commitment must make us “join our forces”, if not, we are doomed to failure, suffering the consequences of historical developments instead of playing an active role. “Families will manage only if they join forces – Phillip went on – Cities will manage only if they join forces. Europe will manage only by joining forces.”


However, this will require shared principles, stemming from shared European history, albeit reinterpreted, updated, with a glance to the future. Moreover, these very values cannot progress alone, in abstract manner.

They must be steeped in the present times, embodied by “responsible men and women.” This responsibility is a commitment which should not be delegated to impersonal structures. It involves individuals, their daily attitudes and engagement. This commitment involves each and every one of us in Europe, regardless of political engagement, whether young or old, with an academic tile or whether a believer…

The strong, simple presence of Jesus.” For the Lord Mayor, “given the challenging path Europe is called to undertake, Pope Francis represents a great blessing.” Hence the awarding of the Prize to people who gave distinguished contributions to a Europe of peace, cohesion, freedom, and openness. In his enlightened speech, Bergoglio indicated to Christians and to the ecclesial community their part in this process.


To the rebirth of a weary Europe, yet still rich in energies and possibilities, the Church can and must play her part.”


Her task “is one with her mission: the proclamation of the Gospel, which today more than ever finds expression in going forth to bind the wounds of humanity with the powerful yet simple presence of Jesus, and his mercy that consoles and encourages.” It is an appeal to responsibility that can be postponed no more: “God desires to dwell in our midst, but he can only do so through men and women who, like the great evangelizers of this continent, have been touched by him and live for the Gospel, seeking nothing else. Only a Church rich in witnesses will be able to bring back the pure water of the Gospel to the roots of Europe.”


Dream and coherence. The Pope voiced his dreams: “I dream of a new European humanism”, “I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother”; “I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance”; “I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime…”

In his speech, Bergoglio continued his list of dreams, all of which refer to the witness of Christians engaged in the historical process with sense of responsibility, coupled by the force of dialogue with all those they meet along the way.

It is a strong, determined appeal to the faithful to give a concrete token of their faith today, without looking for excuses and without backing out. Anyone is free to choose to seek refuge in sad, often selfish and surely fruitless complaints, or to coherently undertake the path indicated by Pope Francis.


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