The meeting with the leaders of the Continent, received in the Vatican by Pope Francis, was marked by a strong message for Europe and a visit to one of its most emblematic and vital centres. Followed just hours later by the Pontiff’s journey to the Archdiocese of Milan which, although brief, was packed with events, the meeting took place on the 60th anniversary of the treaties that initiated the process of European Unification, when the crisis continued to weigh upon a humanity experiencing fear and confusion in the face of new and truly unforeseen scenarios.
The Pontiff’s words were strong for their realism and at the same time open with trust in the future. It seemed these words could only be spoken by a Pope who came from America, but had roots in Italy. Indeed, Pope Bergoglio chose to speak about memory and hope, emphasizing their unbreakable link. “We cannot understand our own times apart from the past, seen not as an assemblage of distant facts, but as the lymph that gives life to the present”, he stated, introducing a reflection on the significance of the anniversary.
In the Pope’s address it is easy to recognize a line based on the persuasive interweaving of recollections of the founding fathers of the European Unification — a process that was born out of economic exigencies, but with the then-clear awareness of “a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity”, as emphasized by Alcide De Gasperi in one of his last discourses, in fidelity “to the spirit of European solidarity” evoked at the signing of the treaties.
In 1957, Europe was experiencing the consequences of the World War, including the oppressive cloak of “the unnatural barrier that divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic”. But today the economic wellbeing which had “clipped the continent’s wings” has ended up erasing the memory of the reconstruction, of the “efforts” that were necessary in order to tear down that wall and to bring about “the longest period of peace” that Europe has known in recent centuries.
Thus, it is necessary to return to the spirit of service, to political passion and to the “the consciousness that ‘at the origin of European civilization there is Christianity’, without which the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible”, the Pope said, again quoting De Gasperi. Today, “these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots. The fruitfulness of that connection will make it possible to build authentically ‘lay’ societies, free of ideological conflicts”, the Pontiff continued, adding that in these societies, everyone — without distinction of origin, believers and non-believers alike — have a place.
This is the path to take in order to overcome the skepticism in a Europe seen only as “a conglomeration of rules to obey”, and to experience today’s crises as challenges and opportunities; to open itself up, as the Continent has done throughout history, and experience solidarity as an “effective antidote to modern forms of populism”; in other words, to return to politics worthy of this name, so as “to start thinking once again as Europeans”.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 22, 2019
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