“Whether the process is painful or happy, the construction is going forward”
While Pope Francis is getting ready to speak to the European Parliament on 25 November, we look back at the words spoken by his predecessors on the subject of European integration.
In the days before the European Union existed, there were Popes who already dreamed of it. In the middle of the Second World War, Pope Pius XII delivered a Christmas message on the radio in which he called for “the formation of an organ for the maintenance of peace, of an organ invested by common consent with supreme power, to whose office it would also pertain to smother in its germinal state any threat of isolated or collective aggression.”
At Christmas 1953, Pius XII went further and called on politicians for action, not words: “Why are you still holding back?” he asked, “the end is clear, the needs of the peoples are there for everyone to behold. People who ask for an absolute guarantee of success in advance show no goodwill with regard to Europe.”
Later on he repeated his messages of support for European unity, as in 1957 when he addressed the delegates attending the Congress for Europe. After welcoming the birth of the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) he came back to the failure of the EDC (European Defence Community) that same year, 1957.
“Right now,” remarked Pius XII, “it is abundantly clear that there is real need for union and that such a union must be built upon foundations strong enough to support it. Whether it be a painful process or a happy one, the construction of the union is going forward and, despite some unsuccessful tries, it is going forward with courage.
We are happy to see such a spirit, persuaded that it comes from generous and upright motives. Your aim is to secure for Europe, which has so often been torn asunder and bloodstained, a lasting unity which will enable her to continue her mission in history. If it is true that for Europe the message of Christianity was like the leaven in dough, always working and causing the whole mass to rise, it is no less true that this same message remains, today as yesterday, the most valuable of the treasures with which she has been charged. …. this message can maintain the vigour and integrity of the operations of family and national society and, in a supra-national community, can guarantee respect for cultural differences and a spirit of conciliation and cooperation, along with an acceptance of the sacrifices which it will entail and the dedication which it will demand. »
A construction that he compared to the Kingdom of God: “May you be able to construct for the men of our age an earthly home which bears some resemblance to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of truth, love, and peace, to which they aspire from the depths of their beings.”
His successor at the Vatican, Pope John XXIII also encouraged Christians to become involved in the construction of Europe. In his letter to the delegates of the 49th Semaines Sociales de France (Social Weeks of France) meeting in Strasbourg in 1962, he declared: “By giving their time, their work and their heart to the construction of Europe united in social justice and open to the international calls for this justice, Christians will be working together effectively for world peace and for the reign of Christ, grasping the exceptional opportunities of this epoch.”
Pope John-Paul II was the first Pope to be invited to address the European Parliament directly, on 11 October 1988. Like his predecessors, he hailed the recent progress in the European institutions, in particular the entry into force of the Single European Act in 1992. He also emphasised in his speech the particular aspect of the construction of Europe marked by a spirit of cooperation rather than domination, using these striking words: “These united European peoples will not accept the domination of one nation or culture over the others, but they will uphold the equal right of all to enrich others with their difference. The empires of the past have all failed when they tried to establish their dominance by force or political assimilation. Your Europe will be one of free association of all its peoples and of the pooling of the many riches of its diversity.”
Did John-Paul II have any premonition that the Iron Curtain would fall just a few months later? In any case, he warned the MEPs to open up to the second “lung of Europe”: “Other nations will certainly be able to join those that are represented here today. As the Supreme Pastor of the universal Church, myself a native of Eastern Europe and knowing the aspirations of the Slavic peoples, the other "lung" of our common European homeland, my wish is that Europe, willingly giving itself free institutions, may one day reach the full dimensions that geography and, even more, history have given it.” This wish was granted in 2004 with the EU enlargement to Eastern Europe.
However, Pope John-Paul II’s interest in the future of the European continent went much further, since he devoted a whole Apostolic letter to the Church in Europe. Published in 2003, Ecclesia in Europa is regarded by many commentators as a “compass for Europe”.
Finally, Pope Benedict XVI devoted countless contributions and speeches to the subject of Europe. His thinking turned a great deal around the loss of the Christian roots of Europe, going as far as using the term “apostasy” in a speech in 2007, a term which left its mark on many people.
It is not hard to predict that Pope Francis, the first non-European Pope in history, will appraise and renew our expectations for the European project.
Translated from the original text in French