Reflecting on the contribution of Christianity to Europe’s future, Pope Francis said that as Saint Benedict did in the sixth century, today’s Christians “are called to revitalize Europe and to revive its conscience.”
Citing the ancient Letter to Diognetus, the Pope said that “what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world,” as he urged the Christians of today to take up the challenge of playing an active role in Europe’s future.
Saint Benedict, Francis said, was “capable of awakening new energies in society” and, sustained by faith, “Benedict looked ahead, and from a tiny cave in Subiaco he gave birth to an exciting and irresistible movement that changed the face of Europe.”
“It was not by chance that Paul VI proclaimed him the Patron of Europe,” he said, because Benedict was a “messenger of peace, promoter of union, master of civilization.”
In his address to the international conference “(Re)Thinking Europe – a Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project,” Pope Francis reminded his hearers of Europe’s Christian roots, which the modern Europe is tempted to forget, suffering as it does from a “memory deficit.”
“To speak of a Christian contribution to the future of the continent means, before all else, to consider our task, as Christians today, in these lands which have been so richly shaped by the faith down the centuries,” he said. “What is our responsibility at a time when the face of Europe is increasingly distinguished by a plurality of cultures and religions, while for many people Christianity is regarded as a thing of the past, both alien and irrelevant?”
Beginning in the 1960s, Francis said, “the rejection of what had been passed down from earlier generations was followed by a period of dramatic sterility.”
“Not only because Europe has fewer children, and all too many were denied the right to be born,” he said, “but also because there has been a failure to pass on the material and cultural tools that young people need to face the future. Europe has a kind of memory deficit.”
“To become once more a solidary community means rediscovering the value of our own past, in order to enrich the present and to pass on a future of hope to future generations,” he said.
For Saint Benedict, Francis said, the important thing was not functions but persons. “This was one of the foundational values brought by Christianity: the sense of the person created in the image of God.”
“This principle led to the building of the monasteries, which in time would become the cradle of the human, cultural, religious and economic rebirth of the continent,” he said.
The Pope also stressed that revitalizing Europe necessarily means revitalizing the family as God intended it, as the union of one man and one woman with their children, rather than the “modern family” imposed by secularists.
“The family, as the primordial community, remains the most fundamental place for this process of discovery,” he said. “There, diversity is valued and at the same time brought into unity. The family is the harmonious union of the differences between man and woman, which becomes stronger and more authentic to the extent that it is fruitful, capable of opening itself to life and to others.”
Christianity still has a key role to play in European society, Francis said, despite the anti-Christian prejudice that is so often seen in “international meetings” and elsewhere.
“Regrettably, a certain secularist prejudice, still in vogue, is incapable of seeing the positive value of religion’s public and objective role in society, preferring to relegate it to the realm of the merely private and sentimental,” he said.
“The result is the predominance of a certain groupthink, quite apparent in international meetings, which sees the affirmation of religious identity as a threat to itself and its dominance, and ends up promoting an ersatz conflict between the right to religious freedom and other fundamental rights,” he said.
As he has done on other occasions, the Pope addressed Europe’s migrant crisis by proposing a balance between a welcoming attitude toward all and the reality of each country’s social and political circumstances.
This welcoming attitude, he said, is not “opposed to the duty of all government authorities to address the migration issue ‘with the virtue proper to governance, which is prudence.’”
“Authorities should keep in mind the need for an open heart, but also their ability to provide for the full integration, on the social, economic and political level, of those entering their countries,” he said, which means that immigration should never be treated as “an indiscriminate and unregulated process.”
In the face of unemployment and industrial stagnation, the Pope proposed a greater attention to personal initiative and entrepreneurship.
Governments, he said, “have the duty to create economic conditions that promote a healthy entrepreneurship” as a means of providing employment and prosperity.
“The last century provided many eloquent examples of Christian entrepreneurs who understood that the success of their ventures depended above all on the ability to provide employment opportunities and dignified working conditions,” he said.
“There is a need to recover the spirit of those ventures,” he said.