“I was deeply moved, especially by one of the many messages I received. It came from the Mare Jonio vessel. They expressed their joy for my nomination, along with that of Father Michael Czerny and the Archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi. We are all persons who stand by the refugees, they said: ‘the Pope has not forgotten us'”, the archbishop of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Hollerich told SIR. His words show that Pope Francis’ announcement to create 13 new cardinals arrived all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, reaching the ship of the NGO Mediterranea anchored offshore near the island of Lampedusa for days in the midst of a storm. Past May Msgr. Hollerich, President of COMECE – the Commission representing EU Bishops’ Conferences in Brussels – took part in a delegation that visited the island of Lesbos on the initiative of Pope Francis after his journey in 2016, when he visited the refugee population. The delegation also included Card. Konrad Krajewski and Msgr. Sevastianos Rossolatos, Archbishop of Athens. SIR interviewed the archbishop shortly after the announcement.
Why has Pope Francis chosen you and what is the significance of this appointment?
You should ask the Holy Father. I believe it is also to honour Comece and its work. The European Union is important to the Pope and it is important for the stability of peace in the world.
What are the Pope’s concerns with regard to Europe?
I think he is concerned about Brexit and the growth of populism across a number of EU Member Countries. Populism is counter to the spirit of Europe. Two world wars have been fought on this land. Thus, it is necessary to show humbleness as Europeans in the world.
But precisely because we have experienced the tragic effects of war, Europe today is called upon to undertake a mission of peace in the world.
It should also be said that many countries of the European Union are working for the reception of refugees, and this is very important for the Pope.
What drives Europe towards populism?
Populism is the opposite of what is European. It artificially recreates an identity and turns it against others. However, identity is constantly changing. It is never permanent. Moreover, even as Europeans, we belong to a diverse reality in which many groups with many identities coexist. If all this is ignored and denied, it becomes painful.
It’s the attitude of whoever is opposed to others, of those who always need to identify an enemy, those who disseminate hate speech. Whoever acts in this way goes against the Gospel.
You mentioned Brexit. What is your message to British politicians and citizens in this delicate process which the UK is experiencing to prevent leaving the EU without a deal?
I would ask politicians to do everything they can to preserve the friendship and the fruitful cooperation between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
There must be no enemies between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It would be fatal.
And it would be contrary to the very idea of Europe. To the English people, I would like to say: we regret it, but we respect the vote you have cast. People in the Member States of the European Union are not your enemies but your friends. We would be poorer without you. We need what England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland have to offer. We need your history and your culture. We will miss you. Without you we will be poorer.
People are worried that Brexit will affect prices, including higher costs for medicines and foodstuffs.
I hope that policies will be put in place to protect the most vulnerable.
It’s like the environmental crisis: the poorest are always the ones who pay the highest price. It’s not fair.
What does the Pope ask of Europe today?
On the basis of his speeches, I believe that the Pope would like to see a social Europe, for the most disadvantaged. A EU where people will be employed, especially the young. The Pope would like to see a Europe that shows solidarity with the poor in the world. A Europe devoid of unbridled capitalism but with an economic system that values ethics and people’s rights. I also think that the Pope would like a European Union where Member States are not involved in the sale of weapons, especially to countries that are involved in armed conflicts. The Pope would like to see an environmentally responsible Europe.
On the Pope’s invitation you have visited the island of Lesbos. What do you remember of that experience and what is Lesbos’ message to today’s Europe?
It was a very powerful experience. When I gather in prayer I can see the faces of the people we met. I treasure them in my heart and I hope to return there with the youths of my diocese. There is some good news: Luxembourg’s government has given permission for two families from Lesbos to be accepted in Luxembourg. The Church will provide for accommodation and everything they need, also financially, at no cost for the State. I would like to make an appeal for refugees and also call on the other Churches in Europe to take action. We have many dioceses in Europe, if each one pledges to receive 2 or 3 families, it would be a great contribution to the emergency situation. I am referring to the humanitarian corridors of Sant’Egidio. The whole Church should collaborate. Even the Pope once asked parishes and religious institutes to welcome the refugees.
Which voice will you bring to the heart of the Church?
Europe needs spiritual renewal, a new evangelization. All the teachings of Pope Francis – dedication to the poor, to refugees, to the environment – are a call to change our lives starting from our everyday life. Spiritual renewal and daily commitment are two forces that must be combined. Only in this way will there be a new evangelization in Europe.