Angela Merkel meets with Pope Francis. (Alberto Pizzoli/AP via Crux)
A week ago Pope Francis gave a powerful address on the renewal of Europe by returning to the radical vision of the founders of the European Union. The speech was on the occasion of his receiving the prestigious Charlemagne Prize, awarded to those who contribute to the unity ideals of the European community. The Award was bestowed in Rome before a high-profile delegation made up of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Here are six memorable ideas from the Pope’s speech, wrapped in striking images.
1. Europe, fertile with great ideals in the post-war period, now seems like a weary grandmother:
In addressing the European Parliament, I used the image of Europe as a grandmother. I noted that there is a growing impression that Europe is weary, aging, no longer fertile and vital, that the great ideals that inspired Europe seem to have lost their appeal. There is an impression that Europe is declining, that it has lost its ability to be innovative and creative, and that it is more concerned with preserving and dominating spaces than with generating processes of inclusion and change. There is an impression that Europe is tending to become increasingly “entrenched”, rather than open to initiating new social processes capable of engaging all individuals and groups in the search for new and productive solutions to current problems. Europe, rather than protecting spaces, is called to be a mother who generates processes.
What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? What has happened to you, Europe, the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?
2. The continent needs a “memory transfusion”, drawing on founders of European unity like Ronert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi:
The writer Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, has said that what we need today is a “memory transfusion”. We need to “remember”, to take a step back from the present to listen to the voice of our forebears. Remembering will help us not to repeat our past mistakes, but also to re-appropriate those experiences that enabled our peoples to surmount the crises of the past. A memory transfusion can free us from today’s temptation to build hastily on the shifting sands of immediate results, which may produce “quick and easy short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fulfilment”.
The founding fathers were heralds of peace and prophets of the future. Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls. That vision urges us not to be content with cosmetic retouches or convoluted compromises aimed at correcting this or that treaty, but courageously to lay new and solid foundations. As Alcide De Gasperistated, “equally inspired by concern for the common good of our European homeland”, all are called to embark fearlessly on a “construction project that demands our full quota of patience and our ongoing cooperation”.
3. Like the city of Rome, with its historical layers visible, Europe must aim to integrate new elements into its culture.
Erich Przywara, in his splendid work Idee Europa [The Idea of Europe], challenges us to think of the city as a place where various instances and levels coexist. He was familiar with the reductionist tendency inherent in every attempt to rethink the social fabric. Many of our cities are remarkably beautiful precisely because they have managed to preserve over time traces of different ages, nations, styles and visions. We need but look at the inestimable cultural patrimony of Rome to realize that the richness and worth of a people is grounded in its ability to combine all these levels in a healthy coexistence. Forms of reductionism and attempts at uniformity, far from generating value, condemn our peoples to a cruel poverty: the poverty of exclusion. Far from bestowing grandeur, riches and beauty, exclusion leads to vulgarity, narrowness, and cruelty. Far from bestowing nobility of spirit, it brings meanness.
The roots of our peoples, the roots of Europe, were consolidated down the centuries by the constant need to integrate in new syntheses the most varied and discrete cultures. The identity of Europe is, and always has been, a dynamic and multicultural identity.
4. Arming children with the weapons of dialogue, fighting the good fight of encounter and negotiation.
If there is one word that we should never tire of repeating, it is this: dialogue. We are called to promote a culture of dialogue by every possible means and thus to rebuild the fabric of society. The culture of dialogue entails a true apprenticeship and a discipline that enables us to view others as valid dialogue partners, to respect the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to. Today we urgently need to engage all the members of society in building “a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter” and in creating “a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society”. Peace will be lasting in the measure that we arm our children with the weapons of dialogue, that we teach them to fight the good fight of encounter and negotiation. In this way, we will bequeath to them a culture capable of devising strategies of life, not death, and of inclusion, not exclusion.
5. Not a “liquid economy” but a social economy that includes young people and allows them to be catalysts of change:
Lately I have given much thought to this. I ask myself: How we can involve our young people in this building project if we fail to offer them employment, dignified labour that lets them grow and develop through their handiwork, their intelligence and their abilities? How can we tell them that they are protagonists, when the levels of employment and underemployment of millions of young Europeans are continually rising? How can we avoid losing our young people, who end up going elsewhere in search of their dreams and a sense of belonging, because here, in their own countries, we don’t know how to offer them opportunities and values?
The just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labour is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. If we want to rethink our society, we need to create dignified and well-paying jobs, especially for our young people.
To do so requires coming up with new, more inclusive and equitable economic models, aimed not at serving the few, but at benefiting ordinary people and society as a whole. This calls for moving from a liquid economy to a social economy; I think for example of the social market economy encouraged by my predecessors. It would involve passing from an economy directed at revenue, profiting from speculation and lending at interest, to a social economy that invests in persons by creating jobs and providing training.
6. “I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother”:
With mind and heart, with hope and without vain nostalgia, like a son who rediscovers in Mother Europe his roots of life and faith, I dream of a new European humanism, one that involves “a constant work of humanization” and calls for “memory, courage, [and] a sound and humane utopian vision”.
I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter. I dream of a Europe that is attentive to and concerned for the infirm and the elderly, lest they be simply set aside as useless. I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being. I dream of a Europe where young people breathe the pure air of honesty, where they love the beauty of a culture and a simple life undefiled by the insatiable needs of consumerism, where getting married and having children is a responsibility and a great joy, not a problem due to the lack of stable employment. I dream of a Europe of families, with truly effective policies concentrated on faces rather than numbers, on birth rates more than rates of consumption. I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties towards all. I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.
Selection by Carolyn Moynihan, deputy editor of MercatorNet.