[Austen Ivereigh] In the wake of the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union Pope Francis has called for a rethinking of the European project while warning of “walls being built in people’s hearts”.
He made the comments Saturday in a video message to a meeting of more than 300 Christian movements brought together by the Focolare movement.
“Apart from some visible walls, other invisible walls are being strengthened which tend to divide our continent,” the Pope told the ‘Together for Europe’ gathering. “These walls are being built in people’s hearts. They are walls made of fear and aggression, a failure to understand people of different backgrounds and faith. They are walls of political and economic selfishness, without respect for the life and dignity of every person.”
Francis made no reference to the Brexit vote, but spoke of a “continent in crisis” and repeated the calls he made at Strasbourg and receiving the Charlemagne Prize for the European project to be rethought. (See Crux).
Meanwhile, in an interview with Agence France-Presse, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the English-born Vatican foreign minister, said the Holy See “completely respects the decisions of the people of the United Kingdom” to leave the European Union.
He said, however, that the Holy See had “encouraged the European project from its foundations” and hoped that its core objectives of peace, solidarity and subsidiarity could be “protected, preserved and even strengthened.”
Asked about a Brexit back in January, Archbishop Gallagher told ITV News: “I think we would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe. Better in than out.”
But Archbishop Gallagher also told APF on Saturday: “The Pope believes that a refoundation of Europe is called for, along with a reaffirmation of its values and traditional objectives.”
“It’s about inviting European leaders to listen more closely so that the concerns of their peoples can be reflected in decisions taken at a European level”, Archbishop Gallagher added.
In his video message, Pope Francis called for a new emphasis on the cultural and social in place of the purely economic.
“If Europe as a whole wants to be a family of peoples, it should put the human person back at the centre; it should be an open and welcoming continent, and continue to establish ways of working together that are not only economic but also social and political.”
In both his Charlemagne speech and subsequent La Croix interview, Pope Francis cited a little-known 1995 book by Erich Przywara SJ, a Polish-born German-speaking theologian who was influential on Romano Guardini, to express his vision of the European project.
In his Charlemagne speech he defended the idea of a plurality of identities against an attempt to force the nations of Europe into a straitjacket:
Erich Przywara, in his splendid work Idee Europa [The Idea of Europe], challenges us to think of the city as a place where various instances and levels coexist. He was familiar with the reductionist tendency inherent in every attempt to rethink the social fabric. Many of our cities are remarkably beautiful precisely because they have managed to preserve over time traces of different ages, nations, styles and visions. We need but look at the inestimable cultural patrimony of Rome to realize that the richness and worth of a people is grounded in its ability to combine all these levels in a healthy coexistence. Forms of reductionism and attempts at uniformity, far from generating value, condemn our peoples to a cruel poverty: the poverty of exclusion. Far from bestowing grandeur, riches and beauty, exclusion leads to vulgarity, narrowness, and cruelty. Far from bestowing nobility of spirit, it brings meanness.
Przywara writes in The Idea of Europe that Europe’s true Christian identity is to be a crossroads of cultures open to the east, and in dialogue with it. And that the Church’s role is not to be trapped in political parties and movements that create insiders and outsiders but to be at the service of all, as Pope Francis told La Croix:
Yes, Europe has Christian roots and it is Christianity’s responsibility to water those roots. But this must be done in a spirit of service as in the washing of the feet. Christianity’s duty to Europe is one of service. As Erich Przywara, the great master of Romano Guardini and Hans Urs von Balthasar, teaches us, Christianity’s contribution to a culture is that of Christ in the washing of the feet. In other words, service and the gift of life. It must not become a colonial enterprise.