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Cardinal Parolin: Europe needs faith in God as it struggles with ‘demographic winter’

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, pictured in St. Peter's Basilica Oct. 3, 2015./ Mazur/

Cardinal Pietro Parolin said on Sunday that Europe needs faith in God as it struggles with a “demographic winter.”

Preaching at Mass in Strasbourg Cathedral in France on July 4, the Vatican Secretary of State urged the continent to rediscover its Christian roots.

“Europe needs hope if it wants to put an end to the demographic winter, which is not primarily the result of an economic or social crisis, but of the weakening of hope and the authentic meaning of life and existence,” he said.

He continued: “Europe needs faith in God, who is Father; it needs confidence in its potential, especially spiritual.”

His comments follow a speech by Pope Francis in May highlighting the low birth rate of many European countries.

Parolin was celebrating a Mass marking 1,300 years since the death of St. Odile, patron saint of Alsace, a region in northeastern France bordering Germany and Switzerland.

In addition to serving as papal legate at the anniversary celebration, the Italian cardinal ordained Msgr. Gilles Reithinger, former superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, as an auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg archdiocese at the Mass.

In his homily, Parolin emphasized the importance of charity in renewing Europe.

“Europe needs charity, to put at the center of its concerns those who survive on the margins, in poverty or in exclusion, and to manage the migratory phenomenon with wisdom and foresight, so as to make a real integration feasible, which becomes a source of opportunity and fraternity, and removes the risk of separations and painful misunderstandings, specters of a culture that denies that all human beings are brothers and sisters, fratelli tutti,” he said, citing the title of Pope Francis’ 2020 encyclical.

The 66-year-old cardinal had originally planned to visit Strasbourg last year, but was forced to cancel trips in June and November due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He had intended to visit the city on the France-Germany border to mark the 50th anniversary of the Holy See’s presence as a permanent observer at the Council of Europe, a human rights organization based in Strasbourg.

He began his two-day visit with a meeting on the topic of Europe. In an address, he said that the Holy See had shown “a strong and lively interest in the work of the European Institutions” since their inception.

He recalled Francis’ visit to Strasbourg in 2014, during which the pope addressed both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, which is also based in the city.

“Europe is particularly dear to Pope Francis, not only because of his family origins, but also because of the central role in the history of humanity,” Parolin said, referring to the Argentine pope’s Italian ancestry.

“He hoped that Europe could rediscover its Christian roots, starting from this path of fraternity, which undoubtedly inspired and animated the Founding Fathers of modern Europe, beginning precisely with Robert Schuman,” the cardinal said, highlighting the French statesman declared “venerable” by the pope last month.

Parolin said that in a pluralistic Europe, the Church’s task was to “elevate man” not only in his body, “but also in his soul and spirit.”

“Without respect for man in his natural and supernatural dignity of being in the image and likeness of God, his Lord and Creator, society will never be better,” he said.

In conclusion, Parolin said, “whoever wants to create a just, equitable, supportive and fraternal humanity must place man and his dignity at the center.”

“Man, however, is not the one who was conceived by man, but the one who was created by the Lord in his own image and likeness. It is the Christian who lives in Christ, who creates, once again, the history of the Church and the history of Europe and humanity.”

“Great is the responsibility of the Christian, great is your mission in this city, the European capital.”

Before the Mass and episcopal ordination, Parolin addressed the political and civil leaders of Alsace, a terrority that returned to French control in 1945 after several periods of German rule.

He noted that the region is still governed by the provisions of the Concordat of 1801 agreed by Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII.

He observed that Msgr. Reithinger’s appointment as an auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg followed the process outlined in the Concordat, with the nomination approved by French President Emmanuel Macron and published in the Official Journal of the French Republic, the government gazette, on June 26.

Parolin reflected on how the French Revolution that preceded the concordat sought to split religion and politics apart.

“The French Revolution radically altered the age-old confrontation between Church and state, because for the first time it was claimed that the Church — and with it religion in general — was excluded from the social sphere,” he said.

He traced the Church’s response to this historic development, underlining the importance of the Second Vatican Council’s recognition of the “autonomy of earthly affairs.”

He said that concordats signed by the Church in modern times acknowledged both the independence of Church and state and their interdependence.

He suggested that “where concordats, agreements or conventions exist, a positive relationship of collaboration tends to develop between the state authorities and the religious authorities.”

“When such positive cooperation exists, it is also easier for the state to guarantee a space of freedom and respect for human rights for all,” he said.

“This is particularly true in this region, which, thanks to the Concordat, which is still valid today, has been able to develop its undisputed vocation as a crossroads of encounter and brotherhood, not only between the peoples who have inhabited this land for centuries, but also for all of contemporary Europe, which took its first steps hereafter the wounds of the Second World War.

Speaking to journalists in Strasbourg on July 4, Parolin welcomed a Vatican judge’s decision to indict 10 people for alleged financial crimes.

He said he hoped that the trial would be short and uncover the truth about a financial scandal centered on the Vatican’s purchase of a London property, which, he said, had “made many people suffer.”

On Monday, the final day of his visit, Parolin was expected to visit the headquarters of the Council of Europe, meeting the organization’s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, as well as other senior officials.

He was also due to celebrate a Mass attended by young people at the Sanctuary of Mont Sainte-Odile, marking 90 years of perpetual adoration at the site.

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  1. Part of “manag[ing] the migratory phenomenon with wisdom and foresight, so as to make a real integration feasible, which becomes a source of opportunity and fraternity” is to understand that the European experience is not that of Islam as a natural religion…

    As with unitary and pre-Christian paganism, the separation of Mosque and State is incomprehensible, in that such a distinction enables an autonomy other than the autonomy of God. Blasphemy. Not to oversimplify too much, it would be good to hear more about what Poland and Hungary have to say about immigration and integration…

    Yes to fraternity, but at some point our post-Christian era has to figure out, again, the fit between natural law and Revelation or the supernatural. Perhaps not to be so much dichotomized as in our own past (e.g., currently, post-Enlightenment and freewheeling post-rationalism–part of Parolin’s message), but also not to be so much conflated and confused as with our friends from the immigrating Islamic world, either.

    Very encouraging to hear Cardinal Parolin reinforcing the earlier insights of Pope Benedict, as regarding comparative religion and the fit between the Faith in the person of Christ (more than a “religion”), and yet the role of critical reason in making distinctions with a difference, e.g., Church and State).

    “If one investigates this concept more closely, however, one encounters something unexpected that—as far as I can tell—is glossed over in almost all the pertinent studies. The Church Fathers found the seeds of the Word, NOT in the religions of the world, BUT rather in philosophy, that is, in the process of critical reason directed against the (pagan) religions, in the history of progressive reason, and not in the history of religion” (On the Way to Jesus Christ, Ignatius, 2005).

  2. Cardinal Parolin has good awareness of the dilemma. However. As Israel was home of God’s chosen, Europe became the new Zion. With Greek philosophical theological intellect Roman juridical administrative skills it became the fountainhead of Christ’s saving waters to the world. No longer the reasons multiple. Jaded yes. Misinformed more so. Cardinal Parolin’s messaging parallel’s Francis’ hetero-orthodoxy, example the Argentine Papal exchange of letters entered Acta Apostolicae Sedis proclaimed Magisterial doctrine by Parolin in which Francis doesn’t enter in writing a definitive doctrine, simply his opinion on the Argentine opinion. Mixed messaging is by nature duplicitous. It works in favor of the lesser rather than the superior. That’s more due to the recipient’s human nature and original sin proclivity toward the lesser. Malta, Sicily, Germany open house communion the effect. Heterodoxy as a perceived viable option by which we are alleged to remain in good stead with Church and God is quite attractive. Rome prior to 2013 evidenced the good life v the strenuous spiritual path to salvation. Nice cars, clothes, excellent cuisine were happiness, not kids. Migration policy hallowed by Francis Muslims pouring in restaurants taken over by Egyptians, Muslims everywhere refusing to be acculturated, a Christian culture visibly disintegrating. Realistically, what does Cardinal Parolin expect differently? If the new paradigm ecclesiology is simply a catalyst? Genius isn’t required to understand the must return to the Apostolic roots of our faith. Not laissez faire religion. The merciless mercy that obliterates the reality of the cross and salvation. Does Parolin, Pope Francis, ideologue consigliere Antonio Spadaro SJ understand this? Of course they must, but are either hopelessly committed to failure, or perceive disintegration and assimilation to a world community as their goal. We’re caught within a seeming insoluble dilemma that is best remedied by our personal sanctification. And all that Christ requires of his friends during conflagration.

    • A side note to the theological historical perspicacity of Cardinal Parolin identified in Beaulieu’s comment. One wonders whether Parolin, whose ability to apprehend and so definitively explicate the centrality of Christ in the raising the level of our humanness, and the analogous history of Alsace Lorraine to “the importance of the Second Vatican Council’s recognition of the autonomy of earthly affairs”, is a sign of brilliance in his positioning the Church in the sphere of world affairs. It clearly raises the question of Church as exemplar and teacher for those very secular world affairs. Whether Parolin would take a different path, if it were not for loyalty to Francis and the putative direction of Fratelli Tutti toward immersed globalization, rather than the extraordinary Christian message?

      • Father Peter
        I commend your excellent comment. I would like to give a female perspective on the cardinal’s homily. Islam is terrifying,for a woman in particular it means enslavement. The hierarchy of the RCC has encouraged Islamic immigration and anyone who opposes it is viewed as fundamentally unchristian. When we see the numbers what woman would want a child born and bought up in such a cruel culture. Celibate cardinals clearly do not see the issue. As things stand we have a church where by and large the clergy caves to atheistic government over covid. We have a church telling us to vaccinate even though many fear the.moral integrity of the vacine and doubt its safety. As a people many of us feel hopelessly lost from the church and instead are turning to private prayer. I am sorry but it is looking bleak, but the church does not have enemies without it has enemies from within, and this cardinal with his crazy fresco is part of the problem, not the solution.

        • Ann, I’ve thought along the lines of your concern, if for example I chose to marry and my wife, daughters were endangered. European women, girls are often subject to assault by young Muslim men, a travesty that could have been avoided if the EU, Angela Merkel in particular hadn’t encouraged migrants from Islamic nations. And of course Pope Francis’ socialistic policy. Helmut Kohl Catholic former chancellor of Germany Merkel’s mentor, warned her of libertarian leanings on open migration. Merkel, a Protestant minister’s daughter E Germany had an expected penchant for freer society. Added to the problem European loss of faith, lascivious life style, public advertisements displaying soft porn photos, posters certainly sent a message to young Muslim men from prohibitive cultures. In this highly charged atmosphere of accusations of White supremacy, Critical Race Theory, Systemic Racism it’s fitting that I add my close friend as an 18 year old US infantryman named Abdullah Shah, one of the finest, gentlest of persons. Islam’s resurgence, hostility seems a chastisement for our moral weakness. Nonetheless, I question where are the men in Europe who allow these open assaults on women and young girls? Moral tepidity leads to moral cowardice. If we hesitate were we called to shed our blood for the faith [as the Apostle Paul said in criticism of laxity that we haven’t yet reached that willingness] we will likely fail to protect the weak, perhaps our very loved ones. Valor is a virtue, effeminacy has infected men today in and outside of the priesthood. My counsel Ann is remain confident in Christ’s loving care for his chosen. He will remain with us and beside us during danger and peace whatever may prevail.

          • The lack of manly men in Christian Europe to which you refer has much to do with the deformed ecclesial culture being ignored in this discussion predicated on the Cardinal’s professed concern of a trust in Providence. When has that trust been encouraged for decades? How has faith in providence in building families been encouraged?
            In the post-Conciliar era, the Church became intellectualized, not in solid theology but in the pervasiveness of social science that displaced philosophy in universities and holds to such unquestioned silly notions of sociological class determinism. There is no such thing as “a woman’s perspective,” anymore than a perspective that only those of a certain race can have, or a certain age group, or those of any grouping of humanity you can name. Everything Our Lord said about how we ought to order our lives together presupposed innate truth and natural law, accessible to any honest mind seeking a virtuous life.
            Any morally sane man can see the intrinsic dangers to women posed by Islamic stupidities, a situation compounded by Catholic prelates and European politicians who resist acknowledging that Islamic stupidities exist. But the death of Europe certainly did not begin with migratory policies created by virtue signaling, more-compassionate-than-thou politicians, although even this is a condition exacerbated by mindless Trump hatred who was starting to build REAL bridges between Mideast countries with the technologically developed Israel to raise the standard of living of those seeking migration. Any good thing Trump did, has to be undone by phony compassionists.

            It is always irritating to be placed on the spot of having an angry heart when a Cardinal asks us to pray while we cannot ignore a history of a half century of junk theology. Prideful theologians scratched their heads to fantasize they discovered something theologically important and brilliant, like a physicist discovering a new subatomic particle, by telling legions of childishly immature young adults to follow their conscience regarding birth control, in other words, in hippie-speak, do whatever you want to do and call it being sincere. But we sometimes act as though this primary factor is unrelated to these discussions of a demographic winter that also affect a Catholic culture where the vast majority of Catholics today either support or remain indifferent towards abortion. Any manly man does not believe he is being a man by making cowardly concessions to feminism.
            It took generations of crackpot pseudo-intellectual theologians, who were influencing rather than receiving scolding from their bishops, later Cardinals, who redefined Catholic culture down to where Cardinals would elect a pope with the temerity to describe concern for the greatest evil in human history as an “obsession,” and this can be thought of as just his mere eccentricity rather than a grave stain on the papacy, and some prelate needs to get in his face and tell him this precisely. A demographic winter cannot be fought until manly men in the Church say, we were wimps for not standing up for Humane Vitae all these years.

  3. Well, if we (Cardinal Parolin) haven’t fully resolved the dilemma, maybe we should dialogue more soberly and deeply with the Muslim self-understanding—-as it views the post-Christian West? Even prior to 9/11 Ratzinger/Benedict already summarized Islam’s core mindset:

    “We (Muslims) are somebody too; we know who we are; our religion is holding its ground; you don’t have one any longer. This is actually the feeling today of the Muslim world: The Western countries are no longer capable of preaching a message of morality but have only know-how to offer the world. The Christian religion has abdicated; it really no longer exists as a religion; the Christians no longer have a morality or a faith; all that’s left are a few remains of some modern ideas of enlightenment; we (Muslims) have the religion that stands the test” (Salt of the Earth, Ignatius Press, 1997).

    So, at its own core, is Christianity only another pluralist “religion,” now fading, or is Christianity the Faith? Cardinal Parolin: “It is the Christian who lives in Christ, who creates, once again, the history of the Church and the history of Europe and humanity.”

    Europe and humanity? he Vatican/Parolin’s adulterating “new paradigm”/mixed messages of “anthropological cultural change,” quo vadis?

  4. Hope for a Christian is spelled with a Capital H. No children is evidence of no Hope or Faith. The future of Europe is bleak indeed! No Faith, no Hope, no children. I remember a three week vacation tour of France in ’88. As we left Paris, and as the plane climbed into the sky on the way home, I turned to my wife and observed with a chill, “You know, I don’t think we have seen any children during our whole trip!” She reflected and said, “I do not remember any either.”

    • Sadly, this is true in many other parts of Europe as well. Some Italian & Spanish villages are virtually childless.

  5. Every Sunday Mass to which I have gone in France has had a lot of youth. There were MANY young people at Taize when I was fortunate to be there. Indeed the has been and will be cultural conflict. Many of us believe in the Truth and Goodness of our faith; in the Supernatural Nature of it as well as the Natural Law which follows from it. I still cannot find the words to describe what I felt many years ago when I saw from an airplane the massive barrios of Buenos Aires.
    Those of Egyptian ethnicity with whom I have spent most time were Christian. They told me about Churches which commemorate the exile of the Holy Family in Egypt. They also told about how Christians survived when the Muslims took over.
    Our lives, our bodies like homeostasis, nevertheless, life brings change.
    Perhaps I might consider all this condemnation as its own self important heterodoxy

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