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Pope Francis: Europe is like a poplar tree that needs nourishment

Pope Francis: Europe is like a poplar tree that needs nourishment

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis on Tuesday told European leaders that the development of today’s societies and their peaceful coexistence require constant reflection on the tenets that form the basis of Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  Like a tree, Europe also needs care and nourishment for healthy growth.  In a wide-ranging speech to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Pope Francis also urged Europe’s leaders to strive for creative solutions to divisions and tensions for a peaceful continent.  The Pope’s remarks came shortly after his first speech of the day, to the European Parliament. 

Tracey McClure reports:

The Council of Europe was established in 1949, on the heels of two world wars, with the dream, the Pope recalled, for unity and “to rebuild Europe in a spirit of mutual service which today too, in a world prone to make demands than to serve, must be the cornerstone of the Council of Europe’s mission on behalf of peace, freedom and human dignity.”

The key to avoiding a repetition of what happened in the wars of the last century, Pope Francis said, is “to see others not as enemies to be opposed but as brothers and sisters to be embraced.”  Peace, he added, must be “continually attained” and requires “constant vigilance.”

“Achieving peace first calls for educating to peace, banishing a culture of conflict aimed at fear of others, marginalizing those who think or live differently than ourselves.”

The Pope observed that “a great toll of suffering and death is still being exacted on this continent, which yearns for peace yet so easily falls back in to the temptations of the past.”  He encouraged the Council of Europe to continue its efforts to seek a political solution to the current crisis.

Peace, the Pope stressed, is also tested by other forms of conflict such as religious and international terrorism, which show a disdain for human life. Terrorism, he added, is “bankrolled by a frequently unchecked traffic in weapons” and the “arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race.” 

The Pope also lamented the “new slavery of our age,” or human trafficking, as yet another interconnected phenomenon affecting peace.

While the European Parliament acts as the EU’s legislative body, the Council of Europe acts in an advisory capacity.  Its 47 member states, representing 820 million citizens, commit to common initiatives and conventions on social, justice and other issues such as combatting human trafficking.  It’s also home to the European Court of Human Rights which the Pope described as in some way representing the “conscience of Europe.”  He said he hoped “this conscience will continue to mature…as the result of efforts to build on those deep roots which are the bases on which the founders of contemporary Europe determined to build.”

In fact, in his speech, the Pope likened Europe to a poplar tree: its branches reaching up to the sky, its trunk firmly rooted in the earth.  Historically, Europe has reached for the heights in an insatiable thirst for knowledge, progress, peace and unity, Pope Francis said.  But the advance of thought, culture and scientific discovery, the Pope stressed, is entirely due to the solidity of the trunk and the depth of the roots which nourish it. Once the roots are lost, the trunk withers and the branches fall to earth and the tree dies. 

Europe’s roots need to be “sought, found and maintained by a daily exercise of memory, for they represent the genetic patrimony of Europe,” said the Pope, and “continual creativity” is needed to ensure that “the roots continue to bear fruit” to face the challenges of today.

As Europe struggles to find answers to the challenges of a “multipolar” society made up of “multiple cultural, religious and political poles,” the Pope warned against “pretensions to power which, while appearing from a pragmatic standpoint to make things easier, end up destroying the cultural and religious distinctiveness of peoples.”

He applauded the Council of Europe’s efforts in the area of intercultural and interfaith dialogue and said such initiatives  “appear particularly important” for finding the right harmony between “the European identity forged over the course of centuries” and “the expectations and aspirations of other peoples who are now making their appearance on the continent.”

Another challenge to Europe, the Pope observed, is what he called its “transversality.”  And here, he spoke of his own experience from meeting political leaders: younger politicians, he said, view reality differently than their older colleagues – and this sort of transversality is found in every sector.  The answer to this challenge, the Pope noted, is “intergenerational dialogue” and “a  Europe which can only dialogue with limited groups stops halfway: it needs that youthful spirit which can rise to the challenge of transversality.”

Today, society is at risk of an “individualistic conception of rights” the Pope asserted, which leads to a “lack of concern for others and favours that globalization of indifference born of selfishness.” “This cuts off the nourishing roots on which the tree grows,” he added, and leads to “the cult of opulence reflected in the throwaway culture all around us.”  “We have a surfeit of unnecessary things, but we no longer have the capacity to build authentic human relationships.”

Europe today, the Pope observed, appears “hurt,” “a bit tired” and “pessimistic” by its past ordeals but also by its present crises and “the winds of change coming from other continents” and “which it no longer seems capable of facing with its former vitality and energy.”

“Europe should reflect on whether its immense human, artistic, technical, social, political, economic and religious patrimony is simply an artefact of the past or whether it is still capable of inspiring culture and displaying it treasures” to all mankind.  The Council of Europe, he noted, can play a key role here.

Christianity can contribute to the cultural and social development of Europe today, the Pope asserted, “within the context of a correct relationship between religion and society.”

“In the Christian vision, faith and reason, religion and society are called to enlighten and support one another, and whenever necessary, to purify one another from ideological extremes,” said the Pope.  “European society as a whole cannot fail to benefit from a renewed interplay between these two sectors, whether to confront a form of religious fundamentalism which is above all inimical to God, or to remedy a reductive rationality which does no honour to man.”

The Catholic Church, he stressed, can cooperate through its institutions with the Council of Europe “for mutual enrichment,” particularly in the area of human rights and the protection of human life. 

The Holy See, the Pope concluded, “intends to continue its cooperation with the Council of Europe which today plays a fundamental role in shaping the mentality of future generations of Europeans.  “This calls for mutual engagement in a far-ranging reflection aimed at creating a sort of new agorà in which all civic and religious groups can enter into free exchange…an exchange inspired purely by the desire of truth and the advancement of the common good.”

“My hope is that Europe, by rediscovering the legacy of its history and the depth of its roots, and by embracing its lively multipolarity and the phenomenon of a transversality in dialogue, will rediscover that youthfulness of spirit which has made this continent fruitful and great.”

(from Vatican Radio)