We have a dream
Two voices, but a shared vision, in times of crisis
With the dream that inspired the founders of the European Community very much in mind, the two general secretaries of COMECE and Caritas Europa chat about the European project. Their shared conviction is that, to put fresh wind in its sails, it needs renewed commitment from all responsible Christians.
P. Daly: The European project was the fruit of a dream. After the nightmare of war, there was a dream that war could be permanently banished from our continent and that a society could be created in which people could live in freedom and peace. Seventy years later the dream of those founding fathers of the EU – the majority of whom were committed Christians who worked tirelessly to translate vision into political and social reality – has come true beyond their wildest imaginings. Nearly forty years ago when I, a young university student from Ireland, came to continue my studies in Belgium, I too was very inspired by this European ideal. Now in 2014 the EU is in its third generation: the banking/economic crisis is, alas, casting a shadow over the European project.
Jorge Nuño Mayer: Indeed. Many Europeans are severely hit by the crisis. From our European watchtower at Caritas Europa we observe the sufferings of many of our fellow citizens. In Spain, my native country, 50% of our young people are now unemployed. There is more inequality and poverty within Europe itself. Meanwhile countless poor are knocking at Europe’s door, seeking to cross our boarders. One fifth of the world population is hungry. And yet for those in power, only the economy matters. GDP and growth are not everything! Human beings and society are being let down. Economic forecasts predict that there are millions who will not find a job in decades to come. There is a state of emergency in the EU: the poor cannot wait!
P. Daly: Is this dire situation due to the fact that we have gone too far with European integration or that we have not gone far enough? Maybe we have moved too far from the initial plan of the founding fathers. Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer had a project in mind with peace and solidarity at its core. It was a project rooted in Christian values. We did an inventory of those very values in the COMECE report A Europe of Values (2007). Reconciliation was a sine-qua-non of the project in its early days. The rise of populism today in different parts of Europe demonstrates that we can never take reconciliation for granted. Our generation and the coming generations of Christians need to work hard and bear witness to our core gospel values, starting in our parishes, all across the continent.
Jorge Nuño Mayer: Absolutely! If we Christians, fired by our devotion to those key Christian values (and not just on Sundays!), might undertake more responsibility in society at a European level and make our voice heard in politics, in business and in the financial sector, as we do within Church circles and in our families (the domestic Church St. John Paul II), we could give a new face to Europe. In fact, a more humane face. We have to bring the human person back to the centre of European policies and economy. Business and growth should serve this mission. The ultimate goal of every decision should be to serve the individual and people as a whole.
P. Daly: You are right. Poverty is indeed one of many assaults on human dignity. Human life should enjoy protection from the moment of conception to that of natural death. This is not just a passive right, something we tolerate. Every human being, European citizen or migrant, should get the chance to achieve his/her integral development. We have the right to shape our own lives! Education, health, work (and not just employment), culture are essential dimensions of our personal development and a rigorous respect for the subsidiarity principle means they will get the respect they deserve in the EU and its member states.
Jorge Nuño Mayer: Definitely! The EU should concentrate on the pursuit and defence of the common good, letting EU citizens participate as much as possible in the fashioning of the unique community of values which is the EU. The common good of my village community is linked to the wider common good of all Europeans. If a decision creates more poverty or suffering in any part of the world, it is a bad decision. Montesquieu put it rather well: “If I knew something useful to my country and harmful to Europe, or useful to Europe and harmful to the human race, I should consider it a crime.”
P. Daly: We are in fact members of the one human family, all brothers and sisters. And we share the responsibility for stewardship of creation. Climate change is an issue which is crucial for us Christians and harmonised EU policy, shared and supported by all, will enable us to act effectively and avoid potential disaster. In 2008 COMECE published a report on climate and the Christian lifestyle. The message was that we should aspire to live more simply.
Jorge Nuño Mayer: Exactly. In the long term, temperance and living simply are the only realistic and just way forward. We should talk about things among ourselves: in our families, in our neighbourhoods, at work. We should see to it that our principles inform our economic and political decisions. Our societies need to be more compassionate. We cannot just turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others, whether it is the poor, the unemployed or the homeless. We should stretch out a welcoming hand to strangers living in misery – not only migrants or refugees, but our settled neighbours experiencing difficulties in times of crisis. Something as simple as giving another person the time of day can make a huge difference, even if it cannot transform a life.
P. Daly: The search for a European identity that corresponds to our dreams sets the bar high for a Christian. We have to be open to the stranger, to what may initially appear alien, and yet constantly re-engage with our Christian roots. We must remain as open to dialogue as the earthly Jesus was during his public ministry. Pope Francis invites us to develop a new attitude: “Others always have something to give me, if we know how to approach them in a spirit of openness and without prejudice. I call this attitude of openness and availability without prejudice, social humility, and it is this that favours dialogue.”
Jorge Nuño Mayer: This was precisely the spirit that was at the origin of the European project and the move toward integration launched back in 1950. This spirit will enable us to break loose of our individualistic ways of living, too often focused on consumption, and open up to the stranger. I am my brother’s keeper. I must actively promote the well-being of my neighbour. The idea of neighbour needs to be understood differently in a pluralistic, multi-cultural society. As Saint John Paul II reminded us: “Europe means openness.”
Fr. Patrick H. Daly & Jorge Nuño Mayer: We call on all Christians who have a political, social or economic responsibility to revive the European dream. If Christians commit themselves to the values we have at the core of the European project and the Church’s social teaching, they will contribute to fashioning a better world. There is an abiding European dream – up to us to make it a reality!
Father Patrick H. Daly is General Secretary of COMECE
Jorge Nuño Mayer is General Secretary of Caritas Europa