“Europe is worth every effort!.” On behalf of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the federation of lay Catholic bodies in Germany, we affirmed that Europe is a huge opportunities for us all, as individuals, as citizens, as Catholic Christians. But when we speak about it we should also declare that we stand on the side of Europe and report on it in the first person singular. I am German. I was born a long time after the end of WWII, but I am aware of our European history. In this respect, I want to share a personal recollection.
When I was eighteen I had a tragic experience:
I must first explain that my parents each kept pictures of their spouse on their wedding day on their bedside tables. So I knew what my father looked like when he met my mother in his thirties, shortly after the end of the war. In school we had worked on a project titled “Art in the Third Reich.” To place it within its historical background, the teacher showed us a film on the Second World War. When it reached the point of the invasion of Normandy, June 6 1944, the film showed a group of German soldiers who raised their hands as they were being captured by the Allies, looking straight into the video camera with a worried expression. Among these young soldiers I saw my father! His gaze, his fear. The whole scene deeply affected me. I went up to the Art teacher at the end of the lesson to ask whether I could see the film a second time. That same evening I asked my father if it was possible that he had been filmed while he was being apprehended. He told me that in those instants he was scared to death and he had not noticed a video camera, but he remembered that one of his comrades said he had seen him in a “newsreel” screened shortly after that time. So it was possible that my father was being filmed during his apprehension. Me, my Art teacher and my father met two days later, in our school, to see that part of the video together. It was true. This made a deep impression on me.
“Europe is worth every effort!”. This sentiment was reconfirmed on another occasion. As a young student I had a friend in France, she lived in Paris. We met on a regular basis in the homes of our respective families of origin and we both took part in the daily life of the family. One afternoon me and my friend went to a grocery store in the neighbourhood, while we were there we discussed which items to buy in German.
The man behind the counter asked my friend: “Is the young man German?”, pointing at me. She answered yes. He told her to ask me to go out of the shop. He wouldn’t sell anything to German customers. With surprise, more thoughtful than dismayed, I fulfilled his request. I eventually learned that his whole Jewish family had been killed by the Germans, in the name of Germany. I was a young man so I could not be held accountable, but I was part of a historical event that made me responsible for the past and for the future.
Pope Francis reminds us that these experiences have inspired the initiative of the founding fathers of the European Union. And many of them were practising Christians! Whoever reports on Europe, like SIR news agency does, should do so with competence, with sincerity, and also with heart and soul. As Pope Francis wrote in his message to SIR upon the 30thanniversary of its foundation, it is necessary to continue carrying out this “commitment always seeking the newness characterising the founding fathers’ vision that concretized an unprecedented project: an information tool to connect Italian territories, represented by diocesan weeklies, with each other and their Dioceses with news bulletins released by the same dioceses. You were the initiators of a communion of information, both inside the Church and in the social-cultural realms. Continue your work! SIR – the news agency of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, incorporates the needs of various communities. With your daily newscasts, you report on the Holy See, on the Italian Church, on the dioceses, on Europe, on the Middle East, on the whole world…”. We have good reasons to be grateful for the splendid service offered by SIR, lest we forget that in Europe and in the world, as Catholics we all belong to the same People of God! Nationalities cannot divide us. As Catholics we are already united. In humanity and Christian love, we declare: “Europe is worth every effort!”
(*) Secretary General of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK)