LAST TUESDAY was Europe Day. This observance marks the anniversary of what is known as the ‘Schuman declaration’ in 1950 which led to the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community, the prelude to the Common Market and the present European Union. It is an important observance for Catholics – for many years the bishops in this country issued a special pastoral message to mark it each year, with bidding prayers, and often in this parish we have had bidding prayers in different European languages on the Sunday nearest to 9 May.

The Schuman declaration was named after the French Foreign Minister of the time, Robert Schuman, who set up the community alongside the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the Italian Prime Minister Alcide de Gasperi and the leaders of the ‘Low countries’. The object was clear and simple: to pool the production and sale of coal and steel. The nations concerned eventually decided to pool their sovereignty in the interests of the common good of the continent of Europe. This entails giving something up, being motivated by something other than national self-interest, and this springs from the concept in Catholic moral teaching known as solidarity (Schuman and the others were for the most part very committed Catholics). Back in April I quoted at some length the thoughts of Pope Francis about Europe from a year ago; in March of this year he addressed the leaders of most of the EU countries (all, in fact, except one…) at a gathering in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which set up the EEC, shown above. The whole address can be downloaded easily from the website of the Holy See (click here). Referring back to the post-war vision of men like Schuman, celebrated on Europe Day, the Holy Father said:

‘After the dark years and the bloodshed of the Second World War, the leaders of the time had faith in the possibility of a better future. They did not lack boldness, nor did they act too late. The memory of recent tragedies and failures seems to have inspired them and given them the courage needed to leave behind their old disputes and to think and act in a truly new way, in order to bring about the greatest transformation of Europe. The founding fathers remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey, or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance. At the origin of the idea of Europe, we find the nature and the responsibility of the human person, with his ferment of evangelical fraternity, with his desire for truth and justice, honed by a thousand-year-old experience’.

That’s why all this is so important.