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Bagnasco in Brussels: Christians in the forefront of the development of the “common home.” No to walls and populism

CEI and CCEE President in the Belgian capital to meet ecclesial realities and to get a glimpse into the Community’s integration process; reference to the Christian roots of Europe and to the – motivated, competent – testimony of Christians living in a secularized environment. “There is growing awareness of the religious sphere in the public domain.” For the future, it is necessary to recover “a joint vision”, a shared path for the future of European citizens

“Populism is not the answer to the problems and challenges of our times. It chases and rides the waves of hardships, but it fails to handle them. We need a new synthesis, an all-embracing vision of Europe to envisage a hopeful future.” Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) and of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), will be in Brussels for the whole week accompanied by a delegation of thirty priests from his diocese to meet representatives of European ecclesial bodies, EU institutions and members of the Italian community in Brussels. In a meeting with press officers from SIR, Avvenire and RAI – national broadcasting network  – in the seat of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community – COMECE – in Brussels, a few blocks away from the seat of the EU Parliament and Commission, His Eminence addressed a wide array of themes ranging from urgent issues pertaining to international politics to the role of religions in the public sphere of EU member Countries, to the Christian commitment in the creation of the “common home.”

What are your first impressions in the “capital of Europe”? 
It’s my first visit to Brussels. The ongoing activities are dynamic, challenging and delicate; a demanding commitment aimed at Community integration. We are also getting a close-hand view of COMECE’s role in the institutions of the European Union.

You have been recently elected at the presidency of CCEE. What are the profile and the tasks of this continental body? The Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe is a wide-scale reality representing the Bishops’ Conferences of the whole continent. Thus it is an organism enriched with the contribution of all ecclesial and cultural sensitivities of Europe. CCEE – unlike COMECE – is characterised by a strictly ecclesial, pastoral connotation, whereby the new evangelization called upon by Pope Francis plays a central role. 
In this respect our contribution is aimed at recovering the centrality of the Christian roots of Europe, which encompasses the centrality of the human person that is rooted in Christianity. In connection with the latter point, set against the backdrop of contemporary Europe, it should be said that although secularization is an established fact, there is growing awareness of the Christian roots and of the value of the religious sphere in the public – and private – domains. Such religious dimension involves not only Christianity but also the presence of other religions.

Papal and Episcopal Magisterium calls upon Christians to be present and to carry out their service in the civil and social spheres. What point are we at? To me it seems that Christian citizens, young people in particular, are increasingly aware of the importance of contributing to the social and political realms (naturally according to personal inclinations and talents), for the building of the city of man. This is true also as concerns the establishment of Europe’s common home.

In this respect there must be no want of a motivated, competent, and constructive Christian presence.

It should be said that for a certain period of time Christians had distanced themselves from social and political involvement. Moreover, it was widely believed that coherent personal Christian witness would be sufficient. But it’s not enough. Jesus said that we are called to be the salt and yeast of the world. Hence we must be present. This requires challenging paths of formation and a renewed ability to motivate our principles and beliefs: it’s important to highlight their universal value. We also need to take stock of the ongoing transformations in the so-called “human alphabet” …

In which way? Words that once had a meaning and that enjoyed shared cross-cutting consent – such as the value of life, of the human person, of the family, sexuality, employment – are being misunderstood. Habermas points out that in our present times religious language must be conveyed with secular terminology. This requires courage, determination and expertise.

Europe appears to be “besieged” by growing migration flows, and in many cases borders are closed in response. Do you envisage the danger of a fortress-Europe? Yes. This risk does exist. Widespread fears in the public opinion – which emerged also with regard to the economic and financial crisis, unemployment, migration and terrorism – could prompt the political realm to move towards a more unbalanced, defensive position. But it would be a mistake. Also because nobody has a ready-made answer and nobody can be saved alone.

Closures and walls must be avoided

while the response to citizens’ fears and needs must consist in articulated, effective initiatives that will deliver results for the people’s good. With regard to the theme of migration, Italy’s role in the reception and inclusion of refugees deserves to be highlighted further. Such commitment ought to be recognized within European institutional seats, even with explicit support, both in political and economic terms.

In your opinion, what are the priorities of political Europe in this tormented phase of its history?
 Unquestionably, the priorities are employment, social security and welfare, putting the family at the centre. Also with regard to these fundamental themes, I often hear our people raise the same question: where are we going? It’s a simple yet serious question. It reminds us that probably we are lacking a unitary vision of our present times, of our present Europe, of our Countries; a vision of the meaning of life, coexistence, solidarity, progress … We need to ask ourselves if our present circumstances make people happier, more steadfast and motivated by solidarity. I think this horizon should be acknowledged at political and ecclesial levels.

How do you envision the future of the EU? Without intervening in an area that doesn’t lie within my province, I wish to recall what has been said in previous occasions, when I spoke of a “leaner” Europe.

Hopefully less bureaucratic and closer to the people, capable of making citizens “fall in love” with it.

A Union that is reconciled with the peoples, identities, and history of the Continent; respectful of the diversities characterising the EU as a whole. If this is the case, everyone is called to an in-depth cultural commitment aimed at making known that Europe is not a “step-mother” but a “mother.” All continents have something to offer to others. Europe is often described as a “lost” continent; a continent that has lost track of its soul. I would rather use this claim as an exhortation, an invitation to recover our origins, meaning and – as previously mentioned – our roots. Once again, this involves an educational effort.

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