Pope Francis addresses heads of state and heads of government of European Union countries in Vatican City, March 24, 2017. L’OSSERVATORE ROMANO
VATICAN– Being disconnected from the values of the past – which upheld the human person and the family – has placed us in a new era of crises, Pope Francis told European leaders. However, he noted, there is hope.
“Europe finds new hope when man is the center and the heart of her institutions,” he said March 24. “I am convinced that this entails an attentive and trust-filled readiness to hear the expectations voiced by individuals, society and the peoples who make up the Union.”
“Affirming the centrality of man also means recovering the spirit of family,” he continued, “whereby each contributes freely to the common home in accordance with his or her own abilities and gifts.”
Europe finds this new hope, he emphasized, “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.”
Pope Francis met with 27 European Union Heads of State and Government, as well as Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament; Donald Tusk, President of the European Council; and Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission at the Vatican.
The leaders met in Rome for celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community and is one of the two most important treaties in the modern-day European Union (EU).
In the speech, the Pope warned against having a short memory about Europe’s past – both the good and the bad – and as in previous speeches, urged a return to the roots, in this case the fundamental and founding values of the EU.
In a change from previous meetings of a similar nature, however, Francis took a very hopeful attitude toward Europe’s future, saying that while Europe is undergoing its own modern crises – in economics, migration, the institution, and the family – these don’t have to be solely destructive.
“The term ‘crisis’ is not necessarily negative,” he said. “It does not simply indicate a painful moment to be endured.”
“The word ‘crisis’ has its origin in the Greek verb krino, which means to discern, to weigh, to assess. Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it. It is a time of challenge and opportunity.”
For Europe to move past these present crises, leaders must refocus around the centrality of the human person, solidarity, the pursuit of peace, and openness to the future and the world, he said.
The spiritual and human values present in Europe’s past are the way forward in what is becoming an increasingly valueless society, one that is very different from even just 60 years ago.
“Europe has a patrimony of ideals and spiritual values unique in the world, one that deserves to be proposed once more with passion and renewed vigor, for it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism,” Francis said.
The Pope gave several examples of how Europe’s hope can be renewed. One major way is by investing in the future through opportunities for young people to receive a good education and to have real possibilities in the work force, he said.
In the speech, the Pope referenced at length the history of Europe, such as the “tragedy of walls and divisions,” and the efforts made to “tear down that wall” that “divided the continent from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic,” separating families as well.
He also quoted at length from addresses of founding fathers of the EU at the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, including Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul-Henri Spaak; Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Luns; Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Joseph Bech; German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer; and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Pineau.
Addressing “the grave crisis of immigration,” Francis said that the issue poses deep question, that is primarily cultural, and that is: “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,” he continued, “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.”
The Pope had strong words against modern forms of populism, which he said solidarity is the antidote to. He defined solidarity as entailing “the awareness of being part of a single body” while also involving “a capacity on the part of each member to ‘sympathize’ with others and with the whole.”
“When one suffers, all suffer,” he said, referencing 1 Corinthians 12:26.
Without Christianity, the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice “would prove largely incomprehensible,” Francis said. “In our multicultural world, these values will continue to have their rightful place provided they maintain a vital connection to their deepest roots.”