At one time it was taboo in Europe for politicians to mention religion or talk about their faith. But at the end of October this year, those taboos seemed to be cast aside as a definite religious spin marked a gathering of political and ecclesiastical leaders in Rome to discuss the future and identity of Europe.
The occasion was a conference entitled “(Re)Thinking Europe: A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” organized by the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) in partnership with the Holy See. Running October 27-29, some 350 participants from 28 delegations attended. The conference included high-level politicians, Catholic hierarchy, academics and ambassadors.
The conference dealt with the influx of Muslims into Europe and the resulting frictions it has caused by calling for a return to religious principles and a commitment to religious freedom.
As the Catholic Church plays a key role in European religious matters, Pope Francis spoke at the conference:
“The first and perhaps greatest contribution that Christians can make to today’s Europe is to remind her that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people. Sadly, we see how frequently issues get reduced to discussions about numbers. There are no citizens, only votes. There are no migrants, only quotas. There are no workers, only economic markers. There are no poor, only thresholds of poverty.
“The concrete reality of the human person is thus reduced to an abstract—and thus more comfortable and reassuring—principle. The reason for this is clear. People have faces. They force us to assume a responsibility that is real, personal and effective. Statistics, however useful and important, are about arguments. They are soulless. They offer an alibi for not getting involved, because they never touch us in the flesh.
“To acknowledge that others are persons means to value what unites us to them. To be a person connects us with others. It makes us a community.”
In his speech closing the conference, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said:
“…We have to give the people of Europe concrete responses to the issues that worry them the most: terrorism, illegal immigration, youth unemployment.
“Strong European unity is needed with tools that measure up to our goals. We have to reform Europe, not destroy it. In order to do this, we need to make a new start using our values, placing the defense of the person and family, the fundamental building block of society, at the centre of our efforts.
“A Europe without values is a Europe without a conscience and without an identity; it is like an oak whose roots are being eaten away by termites, a tree which is destined to fall.
“Our identity has its roots in thousands of years of history, inextricably bound up with Christianity….
“Europe rose up from the ashes of war, because it was able to restore its faith in man, in his ability to reconcile. In the same way that tolerance and dialogue must underpin our approach to radicalization and fundamentalism.
“Europe must, likewise, not lose sight of the importance of human dignity in its efforts to manage migration. Those fleeing war and violence must receive the protection to which they are entitled in the Union, backed by solidarity coming from EU Member States.
“A handful of countries cannot be forced to shoulder such a great burden with the risk that it carries of causing a rise in intolerance and xenophobia. We must address the problem of migration at its roots by generating growth and opportunities in Africa through an investment plan for the continent.”