Pope Francis Addresses the EU Leaders

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis addressed Heads of State and Heads of Government of European Union countries on Friday afternoon, the eve of the 60° anniversary of the signing of the treaties creating the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community – the first major structural steps toward creating the European Union.

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Please find below my selection of excerpts, and my emphases, from this address.

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The Bible, with its rich historical narratives, can teach us a basic lesson.  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.  Without such an awareness, reality loses its unity, history loses its logical thread, and humanity loses a sense of the meaning of its activity and its progress towards the future.

25 March 1957 was a day full of hope and expectation, enthusiasm and apprehension.  Only an event of exceptional significance and historical consequences could make it unique in history.  The memory of that day is linked to today’s hopes and the expectations of the people of Europe, who call for discernment in the present, so that the journey that has begun can continue with renewed enthusiasm and confidence.

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”.

It was clear, then, from the outset, that the heart of the European political project could only be man himself.  It was also clear that the Treaties could remain a dead letter; they needed to take on spirit and life.  The first element of European vitality must be solidarity.

Solidarity gives rise to openness towards others.  “Our plans are not inspired by self-interest”,[7] said the German Chancellor, K. Adenauer… In a world that was all too familiar with the tragedy of walls and divisions, it was clearly important to work for a united and open Europe, and for the removal of the unnatural barrier that divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic.  What efforts were made to tear down that wall!  Yet today the memory of those efforts has been lost.  Forgotten too is the tragedy of separated families, poverty and destitution born of that division… In today’s lapse of memory, we often forget another great achievement of the solidarity ratified on 25 March 1957: the longest period of peace experienced in recent centuries.

The founding fathers had a clear sense of being part of a common effort that not only crossed national borders, but also the borders of time, so as to bind generations among themselves, all sharing equally in the building of the common home.

I have devoted this first part of my talk to the founding fathers of Europe, so that we can be challenged by their words, the timeliness of their thinking, their impassioned pursuit of the common good, their certainty of sharing in a work greater than themselves, and the breadth of the ideals that inspired them.  Their common denominator was the spirit of service, joined to passion for politics and the consciousness that “at the origin of European civilization there is Christianity”,[12] without which the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible.  As Saint John Paul II affirmed: “Today too, the soul of Europe remains united, because, in addition to its common origins, those same Christian and human values are still alive.  Respect for the dignity of the human person, a profound sense of justice, freedom, industriousness, the spirit of initiative, love of family, respect for life, tolerance, the desire for cooperation and peace: all these are its distinctive marks”.[13]  In our multicultural world, these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots.

If the founding fathers, after surviving a devastating conflict, were inspired by the hope of a better future and were determined to pursue it by avoiding the rise of new conflicts, our time is dominated more by the concept of crisis.

So what is the interpretative key for reading the difficulties of the present and finding answers for the future?  Returning to the thinking of the founding Fathers would be fruitless unless it could help to point out a path and provide an incentive for facing the future and a source of hope… What, then, is the legacy of the founding fathers?

Their answers are to be found precisely in the pillars on which they determined to build the European economic community.  I have already mentioned these: the centrality of man, effective solidarity, openness to the world, the pursuit of peace and development, openness to the future.

Europe finds new hope when man is the centre and the heart of her institutions…  Sadly, one frequently has the sense that there is a growing “split” between the citizenry and the European institutions, which are often perceived as distant and inattentive to the different sensibilities present in the Union.  Affirming the centrality of man also means recovering the spirit of family, whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts.

What is distinctive should not be a reason for fear, nor should it be thought that unity is preserved by uniformity.  Unity is instead harmony within a community.  The founding fathers chose that very term as the hallmark of the agencies born of the Treaties and they stressed that the resources and talents of each were now being pooled.  Today the European Union needs to recover the sense of being primarily a “community” of persons and peoples, to realize that “the whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts”…

Europe finds new hope in solidarity, which is also the most effective antidote to modern forms of populism... Forms of populism are instead the fruit of an egotism that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and “looking beyond” their own narrow vision.  There is a need to start thinking once again as Europeans, so as to avert the opposite dangers of a dreary uniformity or the triumph of particularisms.

Europe finds new hope when she refuses to yield to fear or close herself off in false forms of security.  Quite the contrary, her history has been greatly determined by encounters with other peoples and cultures; hers “is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity”.

Openness to the world implies the capacity for “dialogue as a form of encounter” on all levels, beginning with dialogue between member states, between institutions and citizens, and with the numerous immigrants landing on the shores of the Union.  It is not enough to handle the grave crisis of immigration of recent years as if it were a mere numerical or economic problem, or a question of security. The immigration issue poses a deeper question, one that is primarily cultural.  What kind of culture does Europe propose today?  The fearfulness that is becoming more and more evident has its root cause in the loss of ideals.  Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.  Yet the richness of Europe has always been her spiritual openness and her capacity to raise basic questions about the meaning of life.  Openness to the sense of the eternal has also gone hand in hand, albeit not without tensions and errors, with a positive openness to this world.  Yet today’s prosperity seems to have clipped the continent’s wings and lowered its gaze.

Europe finds new hope when she invests in development and in peace.  Development is not the result of a combination of various systems of production.  It has to do with the whole human being: the dignity of labour, decent living conditions, access to education and necessary medical care  There is no peace without employment and the prospect of earning a dignified wage.  There is no peace in the peripheries of our cities, with their rampant drug abuse and violence.

Europe finds new hope when she is open to the future.  When she is open to young people, offering them serious prospects for education and real possibilities for entering the work force.  When she invests in the family, which is the first and fundamental cell of society.  When she respects the consciences and the ideals of her citizens.  When she makes it possible to have children without the fear of being unable to support them.  When she defends life in all its sacredness.

The European Union.. is called today to examine itself, to care for the ailments that inevitably come with age, and to find new ways to steer its course… Its success will depend on its readiness to work together once again, and by its willingness to wager on the future… This will mean being unafraid to take practical decisions capable of meeting people’s real problems and of standing the test of time…

Invoking upon Europe the Lord’s blessings, I ask him to protect her and grant her peace and progress.

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You may read HERE the entire discourse.

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