Daring to dream of a new Europe – the Church responds to the Pope’s challenge
It is not obvious to everybody that the Catholic Church cares about Europe. However, she has never failed to show support for the construction of Europe. In fact, on 25 March 1957, every church bell in Rome was ringing peals in celebration of the birth of the European Economic Community! The Church has viewed the building of Europe as a project of peace – even more, as a project of forgiveness and of reconciliation capable of breathing new life into countries that had been profoundly devastated by war. Popes Pius XII and Paul VI actively supported this project. Pope Jean Paul II later threw every effort into ensuring that the European continent would be reunited so that Europe, in his words, could recover her true identity.
It has to be said that during this building of Europe, nobody had given thought to, nor planned for, the role of the Churches. In 1980 the Bishops’ Conferences of the EEC Member States set up COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, in order to keep an eye on European affairs in Brussels. Neither a lobby group nor an NGO, COMECE gradually developed its role in European Commission affairs. Together with the other Christian churches, COMECE has been working to raise awareness of the specific nature of their contribution. The Churches are not there to defend vested interests but to defend the common good and the respect for human dignity and human rights. In the end, the European Union has recognised the specific contribution of Churches in the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 17, which gives official status to a dialogue which is open, transparent and with regular meetings.
The dialogue between the Churches and Europe
This long journey has been character-forming for the Church. As she did not enjoy the advantage of having the same historic legitimacy that could be claimed in the Member States, she had to work to earn the respect of those in the Brussels circuit. For this to happen, she learned how to “translate” her concerns into “Euro-jargon”, how to engage in dialogue and accept criticism. This has enabled her to affirm positive elements of proposals from those who might be normally hostile to the Church, in order to work together in the service of the common good.
Jacques Delors was the person on the side of the European institutions who gave the decisive push towards religious dialogue. Back in 1992 he said “If over the next ten years we are unable to give a soul to Europe, giving her a spirituality and a sense, it will be the end of European unification.” The truth of his clairvoyant observation still holds 25 years later! Today, a great many Europeans, particularly young people, do not see any meaning in the idea of Europe, do not recognise her achievements, nor her future potential. This makes it all the more urgent for us to focus on updating Europe and, when dreaming of a new Europe, to bring the young people with us.
Giving a human face to the economy
In his address mentioned above, Pope Francis invited Europeans to make a “memory transfusion”, drawing on the past for inspiration to confront the challenges of the globalisation. In the 1950s, the challenge was to avoid any resurgence of war. To achieve that end, it was vital to bring the States around the negotiating table and to invent a completely new form of sharing sovereignty for the good of everybody.
Today, the most pressing problem is that of social disparity, made worse by a globalised economy which is exhausting the planet and is reducing individuals to the level of consumers. But a major part of the economy is now slipping out of the hands of the Member States. It is no longer enough to bring the Member States round the negotiating table, you also have to invite along some economic actors and even scientists to pool efforts in devising a completely new form of model economy, one that will be far more friendly to human individuals and to Creation. Concessions will also have to be made to accommodate the common good.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis boldly calls us to engage in a courageous cultural revolution and a radical conversion of our lifestyles. He encourages dialogue. If the European Union could manage to take innovative steps to encourage the emergence of an economy with a human face then she would certainly attract the interest of young people. Is this project Utopian? Maybe, but not more Utopian than the project of lasting peace! It would be a project that would honour Europe and be beneficial to the entire world.
Former director of the ‘Family and Society’ national unit of the French Bishops’ Conference.
Translated from the original text in French
EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.
Monique Baujard is the author of « La COMECE, le dialogue entre les Églises et l’Europe », Document épiscopat n°8, 2016, published by the Secrétariat général de la conférence des évêques de France