POPE FRANCIS has urged Europe to focus on its founding principle of being a community.
Speaking against a background of threats to the European Union’s integrity, posed by the rise of nationalist movements, he said that the word “community” — deliberately chosen by the EC’s founding fathers — was “the greatest antidote against the individualism that characterises our time”.
He was speaking last Saturday at a conference at the Vatican organised by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community to “rethink Europe” on the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
The Pope told delegates: “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 deracinated society has grown up, lacking a sense of belonging and of its own past”.
He wanted Europe to be a “place of dialogue” rather than one of “shouted claims and demands”, where “the common good is no longer the primary objective” which encouraged “extremist and populist groups who make protest the heart of their political message without offering the alternative of a constructive political project”.
He went on: “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.”
Perhaps the greatest contribution Christians could make, he said, was to remind Europe “that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people”. There was an attitude that “there are no citizens, only votes. There are no migrants, only quotas. There are no workers, only economic markers. There are no poor, only thresholds of poverty.”
That reduced the reality of the human person to a “more comfortable and reassuring” state. But “because people have faces they force us to assume a responsibility that is real, personal, and effective. Statistics are soulless. They offer an alibi for not getting involved, because they never touch us in the flesh.
“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. Person and community are thus the foundations of the Europe that we, as Christians, want and can contribute to building. The bricks of this structure are dialogue, inclusion, solidarity, development, and peace.”
The Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd Nicholas Hudson, who headed a delegation from England and Wales, said that the congress had “brought home how much they need to remain a part of the continuing dialogue between the Church in Europe and the European Union.
“Our future is tied to our brothers and sisters in Europe, as we, too, seek to put the human at the centre of all we do.”