“Entrenchment in one’s own positions only leads to failure. Now is not the time, then, to dig trenches, but instead to work courageously to realize the founding fathers’ dream of a united and harmonious Europe, a community of peoples desirous of sharing a future of development and peace.” On Saturday afternoon, speaking before an audience of 350 participants attending the dialogue forum on “(Re)Thinking Europe”, held in the Vatican October 27 to 29 on the initiative of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), in cooperation with the Secretary of State, Pope Francis spoke words of encouragement to pursue the European project. The Pope recalled the Battle of Caporetto, one of the most tragic battles of the First World War, the culmination of a conflict with the sad record of death and destruction. Europe must cherish the memory of its history to look at the future with hope. Church dignitaries and high-ranking political leaders convened in the Synod Hall where the Pope delivered his speech. Among them figured Franz Timmermans, first Vice-President of the European Commission, Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, and Ms. Mairead McGuinness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament.
The Pope and Europe. It’s the Pope’s third consequential speech to Europe. The first was on the occasion of his visit to Strasbourg. In March 2017 the Pope met with leaders of European institutions on the occasion of the signature of the Treaties of Rome. Now, COMECE, in cooperation with the Secretary of State, organized in the heart of the universal Church an initiative for dialogue and debate with all the protagonists of political, social and religious life in the Continent, to jointly discuss the major challenges faced by Europe today. Catalonia, unemployment, populism, migration emergency. Europe is struggling for breath. European citizens feel distant from it and it fails to provide effective answers and solutions.
Not numbers but people. Taking the floor, Francis shared what can be described as an agenda for Christians’ commitment in Europe. The primary task, he said, is to remind her that she is not “a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people.” This is probably the underlying reason for European peoples’ disaffection for EU institutions and its acknowledgement is the ideal path to remedy a difficult situation. The UK’s exit from the EU is still an open wound. Francis pointed straight at the heart of the problem: “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”, he said. Statistics, however “useful and important”, are “soulless. They offer an alibi for not getting involved, because they never touch us in the flesh.”
The theme of dialogue. Favouring dialogue – Francis said – “is a fundamental responsibility of politics.” Sadly “extremist and populist groups are finding fertile ground in many countries; they make protest the heart of their political message, without offering the alternative of a constructive political project.” Dialogue is replaced “either by a futile antagonism that can even threaten civil coexistence, or by the domination of a single political power that constrains and obstructs a true experience of democracy. In the one, bridges are burned; in the other, walls are erected.” “Christians – the Pope added – are called to promote political dialogue, especially where it is threatened and where conflict seems to prevail.”
Migrants. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The Pope calls upon Europe to take Jesus’ words seriously. “Especially when faced with the tragedy of displaced persons and refugees, we must not forget that we are dealing with persons, who cannot be welcomed or rejected at our own pleasure, or in accordance with political, economic or even religious ideas.” It’s one of the most powerful passages of the Pope’s address, calling upon participants and European leaders to “promote a Europe that is an inclusive community.” He added: “We cannot regard the phenomenon of migration as an indiscriminate and unregulated process, but neither can we erect walls of indifference and fear. For their part, migrants must not neglect their own grave responsibility to learn, respect and assimilate the culture and traditions of the nations that welcome them.”
Solidarity and the promise of peace. In order to make a new start, Europe must “make room for solidarity.”
“It means to be concerned for the most vulnerable of society, the poor and those discarded by social and economic systems, beginning with the elderly and the unemployed.”
The Pope spoke of a Europe affected by sterility “not only because Europe has fewer children, and all too many were denied the right to be born, but also because there has been a failure to pass on the material and cultural tools that young people need to face the future.” “Employment and suitable working conditions are needed”, is Francis’ appeal. Finally, the Holy Father recalled that the founding fathers’ original idea of Europe was born as a project of peace after two world wars and atrocious acts of violence perpetrated by peoples against other peoples. “Yet today we continue to see how fragile is that peace, and how particular and national agendas risk thwarting the courageous dreams of the founders of Europe,” he said. Precisely because of that fragility the European project must not only continue, it must also grow stronger. This is the Pope’s message to European leaders: “The European Union will remain faithful to its commitment to peace only to the extent that it does not lose hope and can renew itself in order to respond to the needs and expectations of its citizens.” He then voiced his appeal to Christians in Europe: “In our day, Christians are called to revitalize Europe and to revive its conscience, not by occupying spaces, but by generating processes capable of awakening new energies in society.”