· Vatican City ·

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich reflects on some of the challenges of his five-year mandate

War in Ukraine is a wound to the soul and heart of Europe

 War in Ukraine is a wound to the soul and heart of Europe  ING-050
16 December 2022

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, President of the Commission of the Bishops‘ Conferences of the European Union, reflects on some of the main challenges of his five-year mandate that is coming to an end and reiterates the Bishops’ plea for peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich on Monday, 12 December, relaunched the European Bishops’ plea for peace in Europe, underlining how “as Churches, we have to do everything possible to reach a ceasefire” because every day there are people who die, who are wounded, who are hungry, thirsty, who suffer from cold. “The sooner there is peace the better for all the people concerned.”

The Cardinal, who is the outgoing President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union ( comece ), was at Vatican Radio/Vatican News after having been received by Pope Francis together with other members of the Commission.

He described the audience as a “visit of courtesy because we’re ending our mandate, five years, next March.” ... “It was a very cordial meeting because we have a Pope who loves Europe, and who has great knowledge about the mechanisms of the European Union and who wants Europe to be a factor of peace in the world,” he said.

The war in Ukraine

It is difficult, the Cardinal noted, to think of Europe as an agent of peace at a time in which war is raging in Ukraine.

With Pope Francis, the eu Bishops spoke about how, as Church (together with other Churches on the continent) we must not spare efforts to reach a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine.

It is undeniable that Europe has become increasingly fragmented in the past years, but Cardinal Hollerich says that Catholics continue to show solidarity and love for their neighbour.

Many Catholics, he said, welcome refugees. And he revealed that he too has a Ukrainian family sheltered in his house. “It’s a pleasure to see them: the mother and two sons, one 16, one 10 years old. They are the living sign of the suffering of that country.”

This makes it so clear, Cardinal Hollerich continued, “that it’s not just about politics, it is about human people.” ... “Because [the war] is not just a wound for people in Ukraine it is a wound to the soul and to the heart of Europe.”

A harmonious ‘Brexit’

The Cardinal has been heading comece at a time of many challenges, including Brexit, for example, which impacted not only the uk but the whole of Europe.

“I was sad when we had Brexit,” he revealed, “but, I understood that I had to respect the will of the people of the United Kingdom. It was hard because you always see people who want to enter the Union and now there was one big nation leaving it, and we will miss the United Kingdom. There was always a kind of pragmatism in English politics which did a lot of good to Europe.”

However, Hollerich continued, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland are always invited to comece’s General Assemblies,  “so we are still brothers, even if they are not in the European Union. And the challenge is to have a good Brexit, which means not a Brexit in opposition, but a Brexit in harmony. That we continue to be sisters and brothers in Europe, that we care for each other, and that we want together, to go the ways of peace and prosperity in Europe.”

Europe’s responsibility towards
migrants and refugees

The President of comece reiterated his deep belief that Europeans have a moral duty and responsibility to find legal and safe ways for migrants and refugees to find shelter in Europe. “I am very preoccupied about the politics of some member countries, refusing refugees. From the beginning of the crisis, 29,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean. That is terrible: 29,000!”

Men, women and children, each of them with a life experience of love and friendship who died so close to the shores of Europe, he said:  “I think we sometimes react in a very nationalistic and egotistical way.”

Cardinal Hollerich observed that compared to many other countries we are not so poor and we should always open our arms to welcome people who need our help.

“And if we have to refuse people, we should not take their human dignity, but treat them as human beings at the border and not as an economic burden,” he said. “We speak a lot about European values. We cannot keep up these European values if we let people be enslaved in Libya lager if people die in the Mediterranean. We have to have politics which really respect the human dignity of each person,” he said.

Five-year mandate

As the Cardinal prepares to leave his post as the Head of comece after almost five years, he said he really enjoyed “the job”.

“Nobody is irreplaceable,” he said, expressing full confidence that the General Assembly in March will elect a good President and that all the member bishops are committed to the common good in Europe, and will know how to go forward.

He expressed joy for the appointment of Bishop Noel Treanor as Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union, which he said “is a great joy and also recognition, first of Bishop Treanor’s  Europeanness, his great experience as Secretary General of comece, and also an appreciation of the work of comece.”

Christmas Appeal

The Cardinal concluded with an appeal for Christmas: “Let’s not make a feast of consumption of Christmas, because we know that it will not function for human happiness,” he said. “Let us rediscover the real value of Christmas and appeal to the people of Russia and Ukraine, to their governments, to the Churches: make peace! “Christmas is the feast of peace. Make peace. Do not kill people on that day. Or on any other day.”

By Linda Bordoni