European heritage: fostering the desire to know
What light does this year of cultural heritage shed on Europe and the Church?
It should enable Europe to reflect on the question of whether the European peoples are aware of the cultural diversity that makes up the Community. The Year of Cultural heritage 2018 is an opportunity for the EU to ask questions about its cultural dimension and about what makes its identity.
But this European year should not be confined to considerations of protecting this heritage. On the contrary, it should be an opportunity to reflect on the reality of this cultural heritage and, in our current times, on the necessity of gaining better knowledge of the cultural heritage of the European peoples, especially their history. Today’s Europe seems to be trapped by a century and a half of History. It is therefore essential for us to become better acquainted with our neighbours and their long histories better.
Is it merely a case of protecting a cultural heritage, or also of conveying it to others?
We have a responsibility to convey this heritage to others but it is only possible to convey what you know. It is therefore important to ensure that, in our schools, young people are made aware that they need to familiarise themselves with their European neighbours and their cultures.
The Year of Cultural Heritage should therefore also permeate education policies. And this is where the Churches, which are important players in education, particularly the Catholic Church, should promote a cultural policy of mutual knowledge and understanding. Why in education? Because we need to begin with young people. This European year has been given a budget but it is not a matter of money. It is a matter of inspiring Europeans to want to discover and deepen their knowledge of other Europeans’ cultures.
This needs to be conveyed at school level. The member states should promote education programmes that arouse curiosity about the cultures of others, and encourage pupils to embrace them. It is not a matter of creating a simple European cultural union but of creating a European cultural community. This is quite different – in a community, everyone contributes what they have and what they are and each is enriched by the culture of the others. In a union, there is sometimes the impression of enforced uniformity and loss of identity.
It is often an elite who have the means to travel and who are aware of this shared heritage...
It should not actually be a question of an elite. Those who hold responsibility at European and national level should be aware that they must promote this mutual awareness between peoples.
Today’s means of communication ensure that we now have an unprecedented capacity for instant communication and knowledge. And yet it is a strange paradox that, while we spend the days at our screens connected to the Internet, this capacity makes us even more individualistic. Therefore, in these times when people are more educated than ever before, they do not necessarily have a better capacity for living together than they used to. The desire to know another’s culture implies not being content with your own; it means having the feeling that you want to know this other culture because you are the poorer for not knowing it – and with the culture, the people.
Is it simply a matter of knowing our cultures, or of building bridges?
We must take care not to reduce the Year of Cultural Heritage to cultural conservation. Culture must be given a dynamic dimension, while admitting our ignorance and recognising that we ought to know. This would certainly enable us to understand certain reactions, certain ways of doing things, certain behaviours and traditions among our neighbours.
Gaining a better insight into our neighbours’ culture would enable us to avoid making hasty judgements and reduce the temptation to reclaim our own identities. It is possible to be proud of one’s own culture while also recognising its limits. Ways should be found of stimulating such reflections at European level, and to this end it should be emphasised that the Churches have an important role to play, as they have in the past.
What is your wish for this European Year of Cultural Heritage?
In order to avoid falling back into past mistakes and to construct the Peace so beloved of the founding fathers of Europe, we need to learn to discover the cultural riches of others.
I hope that this European year will inspire in people, particularly those who do not have the great privilege of being able to travel, a taste for knowing the culture of others, along with the conviction that they need to, particularly if they want to build a peaceful society.
Interview by Johanna Touzel
Translated from the original text in French