Vatican City: (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.”