Monday 13. July 2020
#153 - October 2012


Cardinal Martini: The challenge of witness to Europe


The former Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini SJ, died on 31 August 2012. Pope Benedict has paid the warmest tribute to his profound capacity for evangelisation and dialogue. In Europeinfos we recall Cardinal Martini's deep engagement with European questions.


As President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) from 1986 to 1993, Cardinal Martini conveyed his deep concern from Europe in many speeches. We present some extracts that have lost none of their relevance[1].


Europe: a longing for unity

On the occasion of the Fourth European Ecumenical Encounter in Erfurt (in the former GDR) from 28 September – 2 October 1988, he developed the following analysis which is just as relevant today as it was then:

“We are actually finding a number of interesting and varied signs that indicate a great, living desire for unity, justice and peace among our peoples. This is expressed, for example, in the area covered by the European Community of Twelve in the preparations for and anticipation of a broader, significant stage of the union in 1992. However, we are also facing unprecedented events across the whole continent, in both the political and social spheres, which indicate greater pluralism, cooperation, renewal and transparency. We hope that these will last and grow, with the necessary structured progress. In particular, the consciousness of an inevitable economic, social, political and cultural bond is growing, with the individual peoples and nations dependent upon one another. The facts on the ground are driving this mutual dependency ever more towards appropriate behaviour, and towards an ethical obligation to solidarity. It is therefore with great satisfaction that we observe completed and future efforts to attain a better understanding between the various peoples, to seek to reduce the tension between the Eastern and Western blocs, and to dispel images of an enemy which could lead to catastrophic consequences. Considered from a wider horizon and the point of view of greater solidarity, it seems to me that there is a growing awareness of the responsibility which each of our peoples and our continent as a whole bear towards the whole world, especially the poorer countries and continents. This responsibility is challenged by a society that is becoming ever more complex; it involves aid, cooperation and the mutual development of the conditions needed to ensure world peace, and should not falter because of unacceptable colonialist attitudes.”


However, he also expressed the grounds for new worries and fears:

“Their cause lies in the fact that divisions, and sometimes even conflicts and tensions, still exist in individual countries, that long-lasting poverty continues and new kinds of poverty are emerging, that personal human dignity is sometimes disregarded and fundamental human rights infringed. In particular, we are living in a period of complex, ambiguous technical and economic progress. If this does not develop along the lines of proper values, it will form the starting point for new, dangerous possibilities for weapons manufacture, war, damage to and destruction of the environment and threats to human life at the most vulnerable moments of birth and death.”


The Gospel has a future in Europe

What role can Christians and the various Churches play in this “Changing Europe”? Cardinal Martini spoke out clearly for a new evangelisation of Europe, subject to certain conditions:

“The evangelisation of Europeans does have a future provided we take account of the spiritual identification of our continent in all its variety. As Christians we must rediscover our living roots in the people of Israel (cf. Romans 2:13). As citizens in Europe we are also the heirs of Hellenism and the Enlightenment. We live today side by side with Islam. Our evangelisation project has not put forward an objective of religious monopoly, but rather represents the announcement of God’s grace for all people.

The distance between the Gospel and certain areas of culture or some strata of the population may have increased, but we have also observed that in some regions of both East and West there is a marked thirst for religion, which offers fertile ground for the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In the face of the changes that are currently shaping Europe it is our duty and our joy to testify to the hope that is in us.”


He called on Europe especially to act with responsibility: “In a wider sense, the Europe that we, too, are called upon to establish can contribute new wisdom to the world as a whole, wisdom that is the fruit of a millennial culture brought to fruition by the Christian spirit over the course of the centuries. It is demanded of Europe that it does not curl up and hide away, but remains open to cooperation of all kinds, especially with peoples and countries in need.

Europe must live in accordance with its responsibility to establish a civilisation in which human beings are again reconciled with the creation, with their own equals, with themselves.”


Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini finally asked his ecumenical brothers and sisters in Santiago de Compostela in 1991 the following questions:

“Taking into consideration the promise and the major changes that Europe is experiencing at present, will we act as fearful scouts – or people who bring courage to their brothers and sisters, like Joshua and Caleb? (cf. Num. 13:30).

The answer – by God’s grace – lies within us!”


Compiled by Johanna Touzel



Original language: German


[1] Source in German : Rat der Europäischen Bischofskonferenzen/Konferenz Europäischer Kirchen: Die Kirchen Europas. Ihr ökumenisches Engagement. Die Dokumente der Europäischen Ökumenischen Begegnungen (1978-1991). Zusammengestellt und eingeleitet von Helmut Steindl, Köln 1994, ISBN 3-7616-1246-X

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Editors-in-Chief: Martin Maier SJ

Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.