Pope Francis urges Europe’s leaders to rediscover ‘path of fraternity’

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis warned Europe’s leaders Tuesday that the project of European unity is at risk unless they “rediscover the path of fraternity” that inspired the project’s founders.

In a letter signed Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II, and released Oct. 27, the pope wrote: “We can either continue to pursue the path we have taken in the past decade, yielding to the temptation to autonomy and thus to ever greater misunderstanding, disagreement and conflict, or we can rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman.”

He made the remarks in a letter marking three milestones: the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE); the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the European Union; and the 50th anniversary of the Holy See’s presence as a Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe.

The letter was addressed to the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who had planned to travel to the Belgian capital, Brussels, Oct. 28-30. 

In the letter, the pope noted that the cardinal intended to make “significant visits to the authorities of the European Union, the Plenary Assembly of COMECE and the authorities of the Council of Europe.”

But the Vatican announced Oct. 27 that Parolin had canceled the trip because of new restrictions seeking to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

The Argentine pope explained in the letter that he wanted to share his reflections on the future of Europe, a continent that he said was “so dear to me,” not only because of his family’s Italian roots, but also because of Europe’s “central role … in the history of humanity.” 

He said that the pandemic had underlined the importance of cooperation between European countries and the danger of giving in to “the temptation to go it alone, seeking unilateral solutions to a problem that transcends state borders.” 

The pope made a lyrical appeal addressed directly to Europe, urging the continent not to dwell on past glories.

He said: “Sooner or later, we realize that we ourselves have changed; we find ourselves weary and listless in the present and possessed of little hope as we look to the future. Without ideals, we find ourselves weak and divided, more prone to complain and to be attracted by those who make complaint and division a style of personal, social and political life.”

“Europe, find yourself! Rediscover your most deeply rooted ideals. Be yourself! Do not be afraid of your millenary history, which is a window open to the future more than the past. Do not be afraid of that thirst of yours for truth, which, from the days of ancient Greece, has spread throughout the world and brought to light the deepest questions of every human being.” 

“Do not be afraid of the thirst for justice that developed from Roman law and in time became respect for all human beings and their rights. Do not be afraid of your thirst for eternity, enriched by the encounter with the Judeo-Christian tradition reflected in your patrimony of faith, art and culture.”

Pope Francis said that Europe should not focus on “recovering political hegemony or geographical centrality,” but rather on “developing innovative solutions to economic and social problems.”

“The uniqueness of Europe rests above all on its conception of the human being and of reality, on its capacity for initiative and on its spirit of practical solidarity,” he commented.

He said that he dreamed of a Europe in which everyone was recognized for their “intrinsic worth,” rather than as “a mere consumer,” where human life was protected from the womb to the tomb, and with employment opportunities for the young. 

The Europe he envisaged, he said, was both a family and a community. 

“Being a family entails living in unity, treasuring differences, beginning with the fundamental difference between man and woman,” he said. 

He continued: “A divided Europe, made up of insular and independent realities, will soon prove incapable of facing the challenges of the future.” 

“On the other hand, a Europe that is a united and fraternal community will be able to value diversity and acknowledge the part that each has to play in confronting the problems that lie ahead, beginning with the pandemic and including the ecological challenge of preserving our natural resources and the quality of the environment in which we live.” 

“We are faced with the choice between a model of life that discards people and things, and an inclusive model that values creation and creatures.”

The pope said that he longed for a Europe that was inclusive, generous, welcoming, and hospitable. He appealed for an “intelligent solidarity” that goes beyond simply addressing basic needs. 

He wrote: “Solidarity involves being a neighbor to others. In the case of Europe, this means becoming especially ready and willing, through international cooperation, to offer generous assistance to other continents. I think particularly of Africa, where there is a need to resolve ongoing conflicts and to pursue a sustainable human development.”

He added that “intelligent solidarity” also needed to be extended to migrants. 

“It is clear that a proper acceptance of migrants must not only assist those newly arrived, who are often fleeing conflict, hunger or natural disasters, but must also work for their integration, enabling them ‘to learn, respect and assimilate the culture and traditions of the nations that welcome them,’” he said, citing a 2017 address he gave to COMECE. 

Members of COMECE are expected to hold meetings with the authorities of the European Union via video connection during COMECE’s Oct. 28-29 autumn meeting in Brussels.

In his letter, the pope called for a “healthy secularism” in Europe, where believers were free to profess their faith in public. 

“The era of confessional conflicts is over, but so too — let us hope — is the age of a certain laicism closed to others and especially to God, for it is evident that a culture or political system that lacks openness to transcendence proves insufficiently respectful of the human person,” he observed.

“Christians today have a great responsibility: they are called to serve as a leaven in reviving Europe’s conscience and help to generate processes capable of awakening new energies in society. I urge them, therefore, to contribute with commitment, courage and determination to every sector in which they live and work.”

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  1. In 2000 and again in 2004 Cardinal Ratzinger (Emeritus Pope Benedict, 2005-2013) also discoursed on fraternity as being part of something more—when he wrote that “multiculturalism cannot exist without shared constants, without points of reference based on one’s own values.”

    Of Europe and its own values, he elaborated: “Where do we go from here? [….] The FIRST element is the ‘unconditional character’ of human dignity and human rights, which must be presented as values that are prior to any governmental jurisdiction [….]

    “A SECOND area in which European identity appears is marriage and the family. Monogamous marriage, as a fundamental structure of the relation between man and woman and at the same time as the basic cell in the formation of the larger community, was modeled on the basis of biblical faith. This gave Europe, both in the West and in the East, its particular face and its particular humanity [….]

    “My FINAL point is the religious question [….] Anyone who insults the Qur’an and the fundamental beliefs of Islam is censured [….] On the other hand, where Christ and what is sacred to Christians are concerned, suddenly freedom of opinion appears to be the highest good [….] Numbered among the fundamental rights and freedoms is the right to mock and cover with ridicule the things that Christians hold dear (p. 65) [….] Here we notice a self-hatred in the Western world that is strange and that can be considered pathological; yes, the West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely open to understanding foreign values, but it no longer loves itself [….]

    “In order to survive, Europe needs a new—and certainly a critical and humble—acceptance of itself, that is, if it WANTS [italics] to survive [….] And so multiculturalism itself calls us to come to our senses and look deep within ourselves again [….] Believing Christians should think of themselves as one such creative minority and contribute to Europe’s recovery of the best of its heritage and thus to the service of all mankind.”

    (Joseph Ratzinger, from a conference in Berlin, Nov. 28, 2000, as reworked in Italy, May 13, 2004; included in Europe Today and Tomorrow, Ignatius, 2007, pp. 11-34).

    • “The West is making a praiseworthy attempt to be completely open to understanding foreign values, but it no longer loves itself. In order to survive, Europe needs a new acceptance of itself” (Ratzinger). European man baptized in Christ acculturated 2000 years within Christian social mores, the arts [I’m with his death reminded of that special musical legacy of Ennio Morricone and the hope of that survival], its thought all that structures his humanness despises his identity, in his turn to the sensual. A turn that corresponds to rejection of Christ. More so than any other culture because of that unique interior identity with Christ that brings to realization our true humanness. Made by God to love what he believes he no longer believes what he once loved. The self of the baptized Christian then realizes its identity in the humanness of Christ. Rejection of Christ insures hatred of that self. And all that structures both his humanness and culture. Europe’s “new acceptance of itself” can be achieved only with the individual return to moral identity, with none other than the Christ of the Apostles.

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