Pope Francis has sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to mark several anniversaries: the 40th of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE); the 50th of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the European Union; and, the 50th of the presence of the Holy See as Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe.
Decsribing Europe as a cultural, social, and political project that has “been a seedbed of high ideals,” Pope Francis addresses himself directly to the continent and its people, saying they “now seem to be losing [their] élan,” and urges Europeans not to be content to regard their past as a mere record, but as a precious patrimony on which to draw and resource and guide to building the future.
“Find yourself!” Pope Francis exhorts. “Rediscover your most deeply-rooted ideals,” contained in the panoply fo history that is “a window open to the future more than the past. Do not be afraid of that thirst of yours for truth.” Francis goes on to note how, “[F]rom the days of ancient Greece,” that thirst “has spread throughout the world and brought to light the deepest questions of every human being.” Echoing Pope St John Paul II, Pope Francis says: “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,” Pope Francis further remarks, “enriched,” he says, “by the encounter with the Judeo-Christian tradition reflected in your patrimony of faith, art and culture.”
Cardinal Parolin was to visit Brussels for three days, from 28 to 30 October, but that visit has been cancelled due to the coronavirus emergency. Spikes in cases across Europe have brought governments again to put restrictions on commerce and social activity. The Press Office of the Holy See said those meetings are expected to take place via video conference, but did not specify when.
Noting that the European project arose from a determination to end past divisions and was “born of the realization that unity and cooperation make for strength,” Francis in the letter cites what he sees as “a growing tendency for all to go their own separate ways.” He says the pandemic has been “a kind of a watershed, forcing us to take a stand.”
“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,” Francis offers, “or we can rediscover the path of fraternity that inspired and guided the founders of modern Europe,” naming the French statesman and Founding Father of the post-war European order, Robert Schuman.
In the dense and powerful middle section of the letter, Pope Francis articulates his “dream” for Europe: for “a Europe marked by a healthy secularism, where God and Caesar remain distinct but not opposed,” and “open to transcendence, where believers are free to profess their faith in public and to put forward their own point of view in society.” Francis declares the era of confessional conflicts to be “over” but also hopes that so too is “the age of a certain laicism [laicité – ed.] 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.”
“Christians,” writes Pope Francis “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.” He urges Christians “to contribute with commitment, courage and determination to every sector in which they live and work.”
The full text of the letter is available on the Vatican website.
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