Pope Francis’ vision of Europe
Every year, the German city of Aachen awards the International Charlemagne Prize for an outstanding contribution to European unification. Pope Francis has been chosen, for his “message of hope and encouragement” to Europeans. He will receive the prize in Rome on 6 May.
The keynote address that Pope Francis delivered to the European Parliament on 25 November 2014 had created a deep impression on the Members of the European Parliament and other observers. More recently, during a press interview, the Pope revealed that he liked the idea of a “re-foundation” of Europe. “We must do everything so that the European Union has the strength and also the inspiration to make it go forward.”
In a friendlier, more intimate setting, we had the opportunity to be received by Pope Francis on 1 March last together with around thirty Catholics drawn from a wide range of those involved in Catholic social action in France. During this lengthy discussion, we were able to ask him about his vision of Europe.
Private thoughts on his vision of Europe
“Since the time of Magellan,” Pope Francis remarked with a twinkle in his eye, Europe has been observed from afar, from the Southern hemisphere, from a periphery, a remoteness allowing room for analysis. Hearing him say, “I understand my faith better from the periphery,” teaches us that remoteness does not create aloofness. This is the vision which brings perspective and raises warning signals, a reminder of one’s duties. That is when we realised that our discussion was not merely a courteous reply to a question from the audience but an opportunity seized by Pope Francis to share his findings, his critical vision, and to suggest a way forward to an audience of committed Christians, including the French political movement Les Poissons Roses, the French think tank Esprit Civique, three national parliament members, several local officials, and representatives of voluntary bodies linked to Social Christianity such as Jérôme Vignon, President of the Semaines Sociales de France.
We brought up some names of ‘personalist’ authors whose ideas connect us together and the Pope stopped us on the name of Emmanuel Levinas. Was this a paradoxical reference for a Pope, or rather a career for Europeans to reflect upon? Born in Lithuania, emigrating first to the Ukraine, then to Strasbourg, to Fribourg and finally to Paris, this French philosopher, brought up on the Talmud, Russian literature and German phenomenology had also regularly visited Gabriel Marcel. His was a dramatic voyage right across the European continent, and represented a fabulous combination of European cultures and thinking. When the Pope reminded us that loyalty to our roots had prompted the welcome of this deportee, the ethical rule proposed by Levinas became clear: in order to have a house that welcomes the other, you have to know how to meditate there, live in it and then open its doors.
A Europe that is truly open
Pope Francis did not mince his words: the arrival of migrants in distress is a social reality that Europe must take into account. Europe used to be open to the world, both in receiving and in giving. Today Europe must remain capable of enlarging itself in the exchange with other cultures. This Europe will respect the angles which indicate the differences in trajectories, history and heritage. Our continent cannot boast of being the most cultured, as that claim could be disputed by China, but what it does have that is unique is the quest for unity in diversity; the world needs this model, the opposite of trivialisation in a global setting focussed upon the interests of the individual.
Grasping hold of this necessary tension between the heterogeneity of cultures and the search for unity presupposes that one is going beyond the dimensions of a physical area and looking rather at the dimension of time. The scale of a human life has been proposed. The European community, to which he jokingly referred to as “abuela” (grandmother), has grown old and is no longer bearing enough fruit: in order to integrate others it is vital to find back the energetic force that will support change and integration. This will put her back on track, despite terrorism and the war – yes, Francis did indeed use this horrific word – which fuels inequality and all forms of trafficking, beginning with the trafficking of arms.
It seemed to me that his reference to Europe’s founding fathers should not be taken as nostalgia for a past era when Europe gained a personality. It rather revealed part of the thought processes of a man who has reminded us of what had been possible and states the seriousness of the current situation, the urgent need for a European political intervention. What remains is to put the battle of ideas at the service of the poorest, both economically through republican brotherhood and spiritually through Mercy. Having said that, the answer should also reveal action not words, as was shown by Pope Francis’ visit to Lesbos.
Member of the Council of Semaines Sociales de France
Translated from the original text in French