AS THE EUROPEAN UNION goes to the polls this week (in this country on Thursday) Catholics will want to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we vote and heed the teachings of the Church. Three years ago, a few weeks before the EU Referendum, Pope Francis was awarded the Charlemagne Prize. This is an annual award made by the German city of Aachen to mark work done in the cause of European unification. In the midst of so much falsehood and hatred all over Europe I will simply reproduce here extracts from the speech the Holy Father made when he accepted the award (he is shown here at the acceptance ceremony; the other picture is of the award); the whole text is available on the Vatican website.
‘In the last century, Europe bore witness to humanity that a new beginning was indeed possible. After years of tragic conflicts, culminating in the most horrific war ever known, there emerged, by God’s grace, something completely new in human history. The ashes of the ruins could not extinguish the ardent hope and the quest of solidarity that inspired the founders of the European project. They laid the foundations for a bastion of peace, an edifice made up of states united not by force but by free commitment to the common good and a definitive end to confrontation. Europe, so long divided, finally found its true self and began to build its house…
This “family of peoples”, which has commendably expanded in the meantime, seems of late to feel less at home within the walls of the common home. At times, those walls themselves have been built in a way varying from the insightful plans left by the original builders. Their new and exciting desire to create unity seems to be fading; we, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there. Nonetheless, I am convinced that resignation and weariness do not belong to the soul of Europe, and that even “our problems can become powerful forces for unity”…To this end, we would do well to turn to the founding fathers of Europe. They were prepared to pursue alternative and innovative paths in a world scarred by war. Not only did they boldly conceive the idea of Europe, but they dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction. They dared to seek multi-lateral solutions to increasingly shared problems…
Many of our cities are remarkably beautiful precisely because they have managed to preserve over time traces of different ages, nations, styles and visions. We need but look at the inestimable cultural patrimony of Rome to realize that the richness and worth of a people is grounded in its ability to combine all these levels in a healthy coexistence. Forms of reductionism and attempts at uniformity, far from generating value, condemn our peoples to a cruel look at the inestimable cultural patrimony of Rome to realize that the richness and worth of a people is grounded in its ability to combine all these levels in a healthy coexistence. Forms of reductionism and attempts at uniformity, far from generating value, condemn our peoples to a cruel grandeur, riches and beauty, exclusion leads to vulgarity, narrowness and cruelty: the poverty of exclusion. Far from bestowing , and cruelty.
Far from bestowing nobility of spirit, it brings meanness. The roots of our peoples, the roots of Europe, were consolidated down the centuries by the constant need to integrate in new syntheses the most varied and discrete cultures. The identity of Europe is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity. Political activity cannot fail to see the urgency of this fundamental task. We know that “the whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of the parts”, and this requires that we work to “broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all”.
We are asked to promote an integration that finds in solidarity a way of acting, a means of making history. Solidarity should never be confused with charitable assistance, but understood as a means of creating opportunities for all the inhabitants of our cities – and of so many other cities – to live with dignity. Time is teaching us that it is not enough simply to settle individuals geographically: the challenge is that of a profound cultural integration. The community of European peoples will thus be able to overcome the temptation of falling back on uni-lateral paradigms and opting for forms of “ideological colonization”.
Instead, it will rediscover the breadth of the European soul, born of the encounter of civilizations and peoples. The soul of Europe is in fact greater than the present borders of the Union and is called to become a model of new syntheses and of dialogue. The true face of Europe is seen not in confrontation, but in the richness of its various cultures and the beauty of its commitment to openness….I dream of a Europe that is still young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, and offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter. I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being…’