“Europe has played a positive role in the past. Today it still is one of the top world economies but it is under the impression of having lost its direction. It is essential for Europe to recover self-confidence and put it to work, becoming a positive factor for development, prosperity and peace for the whole world”, said Fr Olivier Poquillon O.P., General Secretary of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE). SIR met him in Rome in a rare pause from a busy daily agenda devoted to organizing the international colloquium “(Re)thinking Europe – a Christian contribution to the future of the European project” that will take place in the Vatican October 27-29, with the participation of bishops, political leaders, and representatives of civil society in Europe.
The colloquium was a deep wish of Pope Francis and of the COMECE bishops led by Cardinal Reinhard Marx. “This meeting – Father Poquillon pointed out – is above all a dialogue. It was not conceived as a congress with speakers delivering their addresses and presenting their solutions to an audience. It’s a dialogue among people with different responsibilities who share the joint commitment to work for this humanity living in Europe. Thus, on the initiative of Pope Francis, it consists in engaging in dialogue, a positive and constructive dialogue to show Europe that the Church is a proactive force in today’s Europe.”
Europe is presently facing a number of challenges that are causing severe strains, one of these is the question of the borders and the defence of European identity. What does it mean to live the European common space today?
The question of borders and identities is a reminder of when the Roman Empire started losing power and built limes, delimiting its borders and putting all of its efforts in the defence of the peripheries, thereby emptying its centre. Today’s European Union is exposed to the same risk of losing the purpose of its mission that consists in a project of peace with a commitment for the common good. What I mean to say is that today it is not a question of defending Europe but of promoting it, showing that our faith, cultures, democratic principles are good for us and they can be shared.Ultimately, today the matter at stake is not the defence of a cake for fear it may grow smaller if cut into too many slices, but to learn to make cakes together. In the course of its 70-year-long history Europe has proved capable to do so. We experienced 70 years of peace, we reached an unprecedented level of prosperity. Today the question is: what do we intend to do now? We achieved prosperity and peace, but for which purpose?
Unquestionably we are faced with the challenge of jointly identifying the direction we intend to take, what is the meaning of our being together, and the Church can play an important role.
Another heated issue in Europe is the resurgence of particularisms. What are they signalling to Europe?
They show that we are facing two different anthropological models. The first is a personalistic, Christian-based model that considers life not as something that we own but as a good we are the custodians of. The second model is individualistic, leading to isolation and division. Hence the encounter is not between people but between two different understandings of human life. The true challenge is to understand how this process of isolation and division can be overcome. Long before being a political or cultural issue, it is spiritual in nature.
The Pope summons Europe to Rome at a time when European peoples have stopped believing in the European project. What do you wish to say to this “Europe” that is increasingly lacking self-confidence?
The message of the Church is always a message of hope. Whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world. For example, Europe is experiencing a demographic decline, this causes widespread concern, although the issue isn’t debated enough. We seek to perpetuate our growth and development model without asking ourselves: who are we doing this for?Our priority is to restore the role of the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, at the heart of public policy. Thus it’s not a question of dreaming tomorrow’s Europe. Indeed, dreaming is important for it prompts planning and reflections on the future. Europe is capable of doing this. However, today we need to understand what we intend to do together starting from who we are today, namely starting from our weaknesses and strengths. It certainly is not a step back into the past nor a regret for what Europe used to be.
How can the confidence of European citizens be restored?
Indeed, the situation has definitely improved but not for everyone. If a given policy benefits the weakest brackets it will benefit everyone, while the opposite isn’t always true. Caring for the most vulnerable, the poorest among the poor, is critical to the development of the European project.I think that the Pope is challenging us to engage in dialogue. Dialogue in a world that communicates but which does not dialogue. And sometimes dialogue requires renouncing some of our ideas in order to contribute to the development of the common good. It requires that we all do our share: bishops, political leaders, European citizens alike. And thus be able to return to say that Europe is my continent, my culture, my people.How can Europe speak of peace when wars are still being waged inside and outside its geographic borders?
Europe’s characterising feature is unity in diversity. Diversity of cultures, of languages, of histories. The history of Europe is scarred by wars, and wars are still being fought outside our doors and in Europe, in Ukraine. Showing solidarity today means finding joint solutions. Everyone must feel at home in the European family, not as a stranger to whom are made concessions but as members of the same family. Family members can be very different from each other: we have different habits, different cultures, but we share the same destiny. This common destiny includes Christianity.
In your opinion, what can be the role of the Church?
The role of Christians living in Europe is the same role of every man and every woman in Europe, namely to be active, enthusiastic, and proactive citizens. Politics is good news if it supports the common good. The time of proclaiming great principles is over; now it’s time to put them into practice.