“Reconciliation is not an empty word a real way forward”
It was with these words that French and German bishops hailed the 50th anniversary of Franco-German reconciliation in a joint declaration published on 18 January 2013.
French and German bishops are deeply aware of the significance of the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, which sealed the reconciliation between the two countries. Powerful images spring to mind when talking about Franco-German reconciliation, such as when Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer attended a Mass of reconciliation at Rheims Cathedral on 8 July 1962, or the photograph of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand standing hand in hand in front of soldiers’ graves in Verdun on 22 September 1984. Images like these have come to symbolise Franco-German reconciliation more than any words could. Thanks to the reconciliation process, the peoples of France and Germany have been able to learn lessons from the senseless wars of the past and rebuild their relationship on new foundations.
The Elysée Treaty was simultaneously both the height of the reconciliation between the two former enemy nations and the starting point for the deepening of friendly relations through political and social contact at all levels. As bishops, we warmly embrace everything gained in the signing of the ‘Treaty of Friendship’. Today, Franco-German friendship is almost taken for granted, and on a day-to-day basis neither politicians nor the general public stop to think about just how remarkable the Franco-German relationship is. And yet the friendship between these two countries and their peoples is more important than ever for overcoming the current crisis and shaping the future of Europe.
The friendship between France and Germany, which lies at the heart of European unification, has always been an asset for Europe. Even in an enlarged EU the Franco-German partnership has lost none of its significance. This was recently highlighted by the role France and Germany have played in trying to emerge from the euro crisis. Indeed, it is precisely because the two nations are in so many respects very different from each another that a Franco-German entente can often form the basis for reaching an EU-wide consensus. This friendship between France and Germany therefore drives both countries to unite and shoulder responsibility, both within Europe and for Europe.
The crisis has revealed irresponsible behaviour at all levels and has sorely tested the solidarity between European countries. To safeguard Europe’s future, solidarity and responsibility must become more closely linked (see ‘A European Community of Solidarity and Responsibility’, COMECE Bishops Statement, January 2012). In this regard, Franco-German reconciliation remains an example of political solidarity and responsibility.
The presence of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle at the Mass of reconciliation at Rheims Cathedral symbolised the awareness that politics is built on foundations that it cannot build for itself. Loving one’s enemies is one of the fundamental teachings of the Church, and one which the two statesmen have succeeded in achieving. Since then, the EU has brought peace and prosperity to its peoples. However, the economic crisis has given rise to new feelings of contempt and mistrust between the peoples of Europe, as well as hostility towards foreigners and a lack of solidarity. Our globalised economy, which has turned Europe into a cultural and religious melting pot, has given rise to other enemies. Populist movements advocating insularity are flourishing all over Europe. The economic crisis has therefore exposed a moral crisis, where what it means to be a human being is no longer tied either to our relationships with others or to the demands of justice.
France and Germany can and must summon enough strength from their path to reconciliation and their friendship to draw out lessons from today’s problems. France and Germany should also look to their past for inspiration about how to help the EU establish long-term, solid political structures and an authentic social market economy. The two countries can work together to ensure that, more than ever before, respect for human dignity, concern for the common good and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity will continue to guide the building of Europe.
European integration has come to symbolise conflict resolution, which is reflected in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. The friendship between the two former enemies is also a model for the rest of the world of how reconciliation can be achieved. The example set by France and Germany, and the ties of friendship between them, must continue to be embodied by men and women today. It is therefore essential that we continue to launch new initiatives to lend fresh impetus to the Franco-German relationship, not just at national government level but also on economic, social and cultural levels. It is also vital to encourage the peoples of both countries to learn each other’s language.
The Church has also contributed to cementing the friendship between France and Germany, notably by twinning many German and French parishes and organising exchanges of Church leaders. In the current climate, the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty is also an opportunity for the Church to remind people, particularly younger generations, that reconciliation is not an empty word but an actual path followed by France and Germany, and one which remains open to all persons of good will.
Cardinal André VINGT-TROIS
Archbishop of Paris
President of the Bishops’ Conference of France
His Grace Robert ZOLLITSCH
Archbishop of Freiburg
President of the German Bishops’ Conference
Translated from the original text in German and French