Creating a family of peoples – The Church and Europe
Returning to fundamentals, we must never forget that the EU is not primarily a huge structure of institutions. It was intended as a community. In his Re-thinking Europe intervention, Pope Francis reminded us that the first name for the EU was “European Community”. This designation, which includes an ambitious project, is stronger than the word “Union”. The EU is community of nations, of course, but mainly of human beings, who are called to work for the common good.
The Church and the European project
Why is it rather natural for Christians (and for the Church) to support the European project and to be involved in its life and development?
The Christian faith, embodied in the faith of Israel, gives great importance to history and memorial. In order to understand its own identity and mission, the Church needs to remember its origins, its source. Europe can only be considered as a Union if Europeans know where they are coming from and the reasons why nations were gathering 60 years ago. I regret that in many countries, and also in the local Churches, we lack this sense of history and memorial.
Christian faith introduces a religion of peace and reconciliation. For that reason, Churches can only encourage what was started just after the Second World War. In any case, nowadays building peace remains a mission and a task for all of us.
Listening to each other, respecting the other in his or her differences, and trying to build unity, or better receiving our unity through the Holy Spirit, is also the core message of Christian life. This reflects the catholicity of the Church – one of its foundations; otherwise it would not be faithful to the Gospel. Christians know very well that “to be united in diversity” is a huge challenge. They can also give a taste of what it means to transcend some borders, to build bridges, not walls.
Christians are nourished in their daily life not only by their faith, but also by their hope. Our continent so often lacks this dimension. Sometimes we might say that Europeans are suffering from listlessness. Rethinking Europe today requires a lot of hope, courage and confidence, which can be brought by Christians. Indeed, Christians have to share this gift of the Holy Spirit.
What insights can the Church provide about the crisis the EU is facing?
In one of his speeches, Pope Francis talked about Europe as being a “grandmother”: old, tired, its ambitions left behind, out of breath. This comparison is interesting, but in my opinion, even after 60 years, the EU is more like a teenager discovering liberty; what it actually means to be free. Like a teenager, the EU has to learn what this freedom involves, through experiences of success and of failures. He has to find out the way to live with all this, for himself and for others. Clearly, this needs a sense of responsibility. Towards himself and towards others. In most of the countries of the EU, citizens have been liberated and still have a very high level of freedom. The Church has to help them to understand the responsibility towards the whole world which this includes.
A teenager has a lot of fears. He is often anxious and hesitant. Just as almost all Europeans are now. Afraid, or at least anxious. They share a lot of apprehensions, on the political, economic or ecological level. Most of them consider “Brussels” as being so far from the citizens. But the Church has to help them to be confident and not to use their fears as an easy justification, lacking any ambition. Pope Francis is calling us to look further than our first impressions and not to be afraid.
The search for identity and which communities to belong to is a key challenge for a teenager as for Europeans today. Are we Catalans? Or Spanish? Or Europeans? We all have multiple identities. The consequences of this can be understood in very different ways.
The Church has to help us to discover this as a chance. European citizenship is not a detail for our future. It helps us to welcome a common destiny, without ignoring our other identities.
Mgr. Jean Kockerols
Auxiliary Bishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Vice-President of COMECE