LAST WEEKEND the Holy See hosted in the Vatican an important international conference entitled (Re)Thinking Europe – A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project. It was sponsored by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. Among those who went from here were Francis Campbell, Vice Chancellor of St Mary’s University (who referred to it in his Thought for the Day broadcast on Monday morning), and Professor Ian Linden, former director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (later called Progressio).

The picture shows Pope Francis addressing the conference. His speech was clear and hard-hitting, as always; I include extracts here but you can read it all on the Vatican website – click here. At a time of so much international turmoil and gloom, his call for us to revive the Christian vision for our continent is very timely; it is important that we are faithful and loyal to what he says. Early on the Holy Father refers to St Benedict, patron saint of Europe (of whom we have a statue in the Lady chapel):

‘Saint Benedict was not concerned about social status, riches or power. He appealed to the nature common to every human being, who, whatever his or her condition, longs for life and desires to see good days. For Benedict, the important thing was not functions but persons, not adjectives but nouns rather. This was one of the foundational values brought by Christianity: the sense of the person created in the image of God. This principle led to the building of the monasteries, which in time would be-come the cradle of the human, cultural, religious and economic rebirth of the continent.

The first and perhaps the greatest contribution that Christians can make to today’s Europe is to remind her that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people…… To acknowledge that others are persons means to value what unites us to them. To be a person connects us with others; it makes us a community.

The second contribution that Christians can make to the future of Europe, then, is to help recover the sense of belonging to a community. It is not by chance that the founders of the European project chose that very word to identify the new political entity coming into being. Community is the greatest antidote to the forms of individualism typical of our times, to that widespread tendency in the West to see one-self and one’s life in isolation from others. The concept of freedom is misunderstood and seen as if it were a right to be left alone, free from all bonds. As a result, a de-racinated society has grown up, lacking a sense of belonging and of its own past. And for me this is serious.

Christians recognize that their identity is primarily relational. They are joined to one another as members of one body, the Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12), and each, with his or her unique identity and gifts, freely shares in the common work of building up that body’.

Pope Francis then talks about inclusivity and the need for dialogue; he also commits the Catholic Church again to European unity:

‘Striving for an inclusive community means making room for solidarity. To be a community in fact entails supporting one another; bearing burdens and making extraordinary sacrifices do not fall to some few, while the rest remain entrenched in defence of their privileged positions. A European Union that, in facing its crises, fails to recover a sense of being a single community that sustains and assists its members – and not just a collection of small interest groups – would miss out not only on one of the greatest challenges of its history, but also on one of the greatest opportunities for its own future’.

Towards the end of the address he roots the vision in the search for peace, recalling the hundredth anniversary of the terrible Battle of Caporetto in the Great War:

‘Peace also requires creativity. The European Union will remain faithful to its commitment to peace only to the extent that it does not lose hope and can renew itself in order to respond to the needs and expectations of its citizens. A hundred years ago, in these very days, the Battle of Caporetto was fought, one of the most dramatic of the First World War. It was the culmination of that war of attrition, which set a sinister record in reaping countless casualties for the sake of risible gains. From that event we learn that entrenchment in one’s own positions only leads to failure. Now is not the time, then, to dig trenches, but instead to work courageously to realise the founding fathers’ dream of a united and harmonious Europe, a community of peoples desirous of sharing a future of development and peace’.

To read the complete address: click here.