“The Europe of the founding Fathers was based on Christian humanism that was, and must continue being, the binding force of Europe today. This bond has grown weaker, but if it should cease to exist Europe would risk facing an abyss, and this abyss is fear.” Said Cardinal Walter Kasper, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, asked to share his thoughts on Europe in an interview with SIR released on the sidelines of the International Meeting “Bridges of Peace”, ongoing until yesterday in the Italian city of Bologna. “Fear is a sign of this chasm”, the Cardinal said. “It signals the absence of a foundation. Thus I do believe that as Christians we have the responsibility to revive the conscience of humanity and the value of the human person created in God’s image and likeness, in mutual solidarity between people.”
The Churches, and Christians in general, are very timid when it comes to defend the human person. Do you think that the voice of Christian Churches in Europe is experiencing a crisis?
It’s a very weak voice at the moment. But it should also be said that the Pope’s voice is remarkably strong. I am deeply grateful to him for his clear voice for the migrant people, for the poor, for all those who are suffering. Also the episcopates are experiencing a certain degree of divisions, also felt among Christian citizens who vote for the far right. And while their motivations can be understandable, they are not in harmony with Christian faith.
What worries you the most about political life?
Political life today is permeated by extreme egoism: America first, Italy first, Germany first…and so on. It’s a form of selfishness that must be overcome with renewed forms of solidarity between European countries. Today’s nationalisms represent a great danger. I grew up at a time of unrestrained nationalism. I was a child during the years of the Third Reich. All these challenges are connected with each other and they give rise to fears.
Fears are always bad counsellors.
This is seen especially in the management of the migrants. There are disagreements between France and Italy, between European countries, and the point at issue is always migration. How do you view these constant controversies?
Migration is a sign of the times and nobody can stop this phenomenon. Of course it must be regulated, but Europe should be welcoming of human beings who left behind tragic experiences. Nobody leaves his home and his homeland unless there is no other option.
It’s a challenge of today. We are faced with mounting xenophobia that deeply contradicts the Holy Scripture and the Christian understanding of man whereby every person has his/her own value and should be welcomed accordingly.
What is the role of Christians in Europe?
It should be recognised that we have now become a minority in Europe. But this is not a pessimistic vision. A minority group can be very strong if it possesses self-awareness, because it can have a mission. This is important: we need to discover – or rediscover – our mission as Christians in Europe and our responsibility for the whole of society and for the whole of Europe. We can do so also as a minority. Christianity is undergoing a deep transformation just like Europe, the world, and the Churches… The majority of the Italian population are baptized, but they are no longer practising Catholics. Nonetheless, even if we are a minority, as Christians we can be strong, provided that we don’t remain silent and that we are brave enough to speak out, not for ourselves but for the common good of society as a whole.
Europe needs the bond of Christian humanism, if not we will plunge into a dangerous void that leaves room to fear.
You said you are grateful to Pope Francis for his words , but the Holy Father is under attack, and this is happening inside the Church. You carried out your service in the Vatican for many years, you have worked closely with Popes, how are you experiencing the present situation ?
It’s an unprecedented situation. Up to now the Pope could not be attacked. It was obviously acceptable to disagree. But the Pope is the symbol of unity and his authority extends outside the Church: he is a moral authority worldwide. Wanting to destroy this authority is utterly irresponsible. And for a bishop, a cardinal, it’s impossible. My personal belief is that in some cases when we disagree we should remain silent. We ought to stop this destruction. The majority of Christians, who support the Pope, should not remain silent before this situation. They should say: we stand beside the Pope, we support the Pope. But this is not happening. The majority remains silent, while others raise their voices and form part of a network. But they have no future because they are a small minority, a minority that talks out loud.
How will the Church overcome this situation? Are these attacks putting the spotlight on a community afflicted by scandals? Are you worried?
The Church has been weakened by the abuse scandals. They are shameful. But they show that the Church is always a Church of sinners. If that weren’t the case, being a sinner myself, I could not belong to this Church. There is need for prayer. We must pray for the Pope, for Church unity, for our societies. Prayer is a force that we possess, it’s the greatest strength we were given by God, along with our witness.