(from Brussels) “We see widespread disappointment. It is not a struggle against Europe but against elite groups. People feel they are not being listened to, that their opinion or their daily worries are not understood or taken seriously”, declared Msgr. Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, President of COMECE (Commission of Episcopal conferences of the European Union) in the opening lines of his analysis of Europe. He pointed out: “As bishops, we try to keep a distance from the political realm, and this very distance is to be viewed as an integral part of the Church’s widsdom, for it enables us to love Europe while adopting a critical understanding of it.”
Pope Francis has centred as many as five of his speeches on Europe. What motivates the Church’s passionate interest in Europe?
Many European values are an integrating part of Church social doctrine. Solidarity, the common good, peace, justice. However, limiting the common good to Europe is risky. Europe is a project of peace for the whole world. And what is true for peace is also true for justice and solidarity.
You have put great effort into next May’s elections. Why? What is your greatest concern?
Nationalisms are reason for concern. We all know what happened in the past. We know that in epochs of deep cultural transformation –such as the period we are living today – people are afraid, and when people are afraid they seek simple forms of identity. Having an identity is important. Identifying oneself as Italian or Luxembourgian is a positive thing, just as it is to identify oneself as Christian or Catholic. However identitarianism is wrong because our identities must engage in constant dialogue with the rest of the world with deep respect for otherness. We must never view others as enemies but as partners in the development of a better future.
Why should citizens vote in next May’s European elections?
Because it is an exercise of civic responsibility. The sovereign people must exercise their right and duty to cast their vote.
In the course of history people have given their lives for this right. Today it is viewed as a matter of no account.
What is your message to those who consider Europe useless and to those who believe that Europe makes their life worse?
We must tell these people that it’s not true.
It’s easy to say that whatever is good is due to the efforts of nation States and whatever is bad is caused by Europe. This is not true. It’s a lie.
It’s simpler to shift the responsibility of what goes wrong onto others, in this case to the European Union, rather than taking the burden of responsibility. We have seen this happen countless times, but it does not reflect the truth. So we need to point out everything that Europe has done for the common good. Take the example of the common currency. Without the Euro the common market would not function. Or take the borders: if they were closed there would be no free movement and it would be impossible for citizens to migrate from one European Country to the next in search of a job, it would be impossible for students to continue their studies abroad. All these opportunities are given by Europe. Let us consider globalization. United Europe enables us to regulate a globalization that has already left many victims on the ground.
The lack of rules is the real danger. It’s the root cause of unbridled capitalism, of a profit-oriented economic system that benefits small elite groups to the detriment of the majority population…
This is not a good thing. Structures such as the European Union provide the tools to keep these phenomena under control.
A last question on Brexit. What are your personal thoughts on this challenging page of European history and what are your hopes?
I am saddened; I think that it was not necessary, that we have all made mistakes – in the European continent and in the United Kingdom alike.
I think we should have all listened to one another more carefully, advancing our dialogue in order to understand one another. But – although it hurts – I respect the decision of the people of the United Kingdom. It’s part of the democratic rules of the game and I respect democracy. But we should keep guard to prevent the exit from the EU from causing enmities and antagonism. We should never forget that the citizens of the United Kingdom and the citizens of the European Union are brothers and sisters. As a Church we are called to set the example. That’s why I will propose to accept English and Scottish bishops as observers in COMECE. May we remain brothers.