Respect for democracy, equality, rights and freedoms. Dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe and the important role that the Church plays in society, at a time of national egoism. These are the main topics discussed in the meeting between Monsignor Jean-Claude Hollerich, President of COMECE, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the Commission of the European Union. The meeting took place yesterday, it lasted one hour within a “very cordial” atmosphere. It was the first time that Monsignor Hollerich met Juncker as president-elect of the Commission of Bishops Conferences of the European Union. “We conveyed to President Juncker also our concerns over the temptation, on the part of some countries, to oppose the practice of circumcision”, the Archbishop told SIR, referring to the bill before Icelandic Parliament that would criminalize the circumcision of boys. “It violates religious freedom”, Hollerich added. “We cannot remain silent before this issue. All fundamental rights are interconnected, thus if a given right is not respected it means that all rights – and the human person’s freedom –are being threatened.”
The meeting with President Juncker took place the same day in which Brussels gave the green light to accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia. What does this signal?
It’s a very positive sign. First of all it means that the European project has not been abandoned in terms of the ideal of a truly European union. It’s also a sign of solidarity. Clearly, Albania and Macedonia are poor countries that are facing economic challenges and challenges pertaining to democratic development. Extending a helping hand is a needed act of solidarity. It signals a Europe that doesn’t turn its back.
Indeed, French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking for the first time at the plenary session of the European Parliament, warned against the risk of a civil war in Europe caused by the resurgence of national populism and selfishness. Are EU bishops equally worried?
“Civil war” is a very strong statement. But it appropriately designates the spectrum of shadows that can overpower Europe, unless we take action, and especially if we are not sufficiently aware of the danger. On the one hand populisms represent a serious threat because simplification does not help overcome or solve the problems, but populisms also represent a lack of democracy. Populist movements are centred on strong personalities, they have some key-elements that always recur and they are far from opening up to a democratic debate even at internal level, as happens in all political parties. They oppose a process of globalization that is not only inevitable but also increasingly powerful. When there is no awareness of the growing complexities of the world, policies that put the human person at the centre will neither be implemented nor proposed.
What could be the role of Christian citizens in this respect? What does the EU expect from the Churches?
I think we have the duty to mobilize Christians for Europe. It’s not the task of the Church to make political proposals. Europe is a project of peace and it has always been a project of solidarity, whose vocation is to work for the common good. I think that people don’t realize that a Europe without the European Union would be more dangerous and poorer.
You also met with Luca Jahier, newly elected President of the European Economic and Social Committee. Europe is facing a serious crisis that causes poverty and youth unemployment. Which form of economy does the Continent need?
I was very pleased to meet Luca Jahier in his new capacities at the helm of the European Economic and Social Committee. New peripheries are spreading across Europe, that add on to the longstanding ones. Along with old-dated hostilities between the North and the South, between the East and the West, new peripheries are being created within the same European countries with rich and poor regions. On top of this, migrations are taking place within European soil, as is happening in Bulgaria, which lost a great part of its population, or in East Germany. It is also necessary to ensure that the digital realm does not create new peripheries. In short, we cannot let these processes be left to chance. There is need for policies that can govern them and serious studies that can interpret and understand these complexities so that European populations don’t feel that men and women engaged in politics are unaware of current problems or lack the ability to address them with constructive solutions. As I said, Europe needs more solidarity, and the Churches can give a great contribution in this direction since our Christian values are entirely based on the principle of equality and solidarity. All men and women are equal before God, and this equality underlies human dignity, it forms the basis of the Christian principle whereby all the members of the human family have equal rights. Policies at the service of the human person must encompass these principles.
We are living a period of war that involves also Europe. What is the message of peace of COMECE?
Europe has always been a project of peace. If peace is betrayed, also Europe is betrayed. Europe’s strength cannot repose on armed forces alone. If there arises the need to resort to armed forces, or to military intervention for peace, it is always necessary to evaluate when and in which conditions. War is always a catastrophe. Wars kill. There is no such thing as a virtuous war.