Europe’s Catholic bishops urged their citizens to “wake up” and find new hope by rediscovering the continent’s Christian roots.
In a meeting in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Church leaders from 45 European countries met in the run-up to Britain’s projected departure from the European Union and the inauguration of the new European Union governing commission.
“Europe, rejoice in the goodness of your people, of the many hidden saints who every day contribute in silence to the construction of a more just and humane civil society,” the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) said.
“As morning watchmen, vigilant and ready to point to the new day, we want to give a message of hope to Europe in distress and say forcefully: Wake up, Europe!”
It said Europe faced contradictions from “the desire for God, but at the same time the fragility of Christian life,” and “the desire for universal human rights, but at the same time the loss of respect for human dignity.”
“But existential questions lie deep in the human heart and never disappear, even if sometimes they are obscured by material desires,” the bishops added.
“Every person has a secret desire to meet someone who helps their conscience to awaken; to rekindle the decisive questions of existence, of our future after death, of the evil that wounds us, and of the evils that destroy life and the cosmos.”
In a message to the meeting, Pope Francis said Santiago, burial place of the apostle St James, had long been a place where European pilgrims placed “their afflictions, supplications and hopes,” but also rediscovered “the great richness of Europe.”
He added that current signs of hope included concern for prisoners, migrants and refugees, as well as commitments in culture and education, and said Christian faith provided “the greatest antidote to the tendencies of our time, full of lacerations and contrasts.”
“The forms of populism that are spreading these days are nourished by the constant search for contrasts – they do not open the heart, but rather imprison it within walls of suffocating resentment,” Pope Francis said.
“We encourage the people of God to work for a new European humanism, capable of dialogue, integration and generation. At the same time, we encourage everyone to value what is dearest to the continent’s tradition: defense of human life and dignity, promotion of the family and respect for the fundamental rights of the person.”
The CCEE’s president, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, Italy, said reactions to the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris had helped reinstill awareness of Europe’s identity “beyond misunderstandings and contrasts, beyond partisan interests and suspicions, beyond certain arrogances and heavy bureaucracies.”
He added that Catholics had a duty to “climb on the roofs and proclaim the lights that are there,” in a social and cultural context “marked by confrontations, suspicions, individualisms and disappointments.”