Andrea Riccardi, Founder of Community of Sant’Egidio, during the Ecumenical Prayer Celebration in Rome 2017
Let us not deny it: many Europeans feel lost and disorientated. Where is Europe going? Will it resist the temptation of division? Europe does not seem to protect its citizens any more. In fact, it is travelling in the opposite direction than that envisaged by the Founding Fathers of Europe, who had a living memory of the horrors of the war, of the walls of hatred, of death camps and ruins. Today the generation that remembers that history, is gone. Not much attention is given to history, instead we busy ourselves with the current politics replete with emotions and anxieties. Resorting to war has returned to being considered as “normal”, no matter how insane this appears to those who saw how – even yesterday in Iraq or in Libya- war only begets war.
Europe cannot live without memory. If we are to be the continent of the future, we need to be the continent of memories. The great peace, which has lasted for seventy years and which was built solidly after centuries of war needs to be remembered. It is the fruit of a united Europe where peace has brought about prosperity and the development of a culture with ancient roots. This is the reality that stands out clearly, even clearer than the emotions and scares that preside over our present time. This Europe represents our peace and our prosperity.
The crisis of Europe began when it was arrested in its progress by national, group and individual selfish interests. They blocked Europe’s flight and prevented it from becoming a world leader, with a common foreign and defence policy. Not only peace for Europe, but a common peace policy for the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Africa and the world. “Europe, the gentle power” – as Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, one of the founders of the European Single Currency, used to say. These selfish interests threaten to stop and devour Europe from within. They push for self-determination and for the other to be seen as a threat. In turn borders gain a new meaning: borders to restrain immigrants, borders between generations, between rich and poor, between North and South of Europe.
Borders can turn into barriers, walls. As if to protect ‘us’ from the tragedies of the world. On the contrary. The cruel war in Syria, which has lasted for 6 years, more than the First World War, also concerns Europe. It is merely an illusion that the walls are there to protect: in reality they witness to failure. They are the Maginot line of Europe’s moral and political defeat.
In a global world, history does not have embankments, but it needs strong and coherent actors. It demands that we advance united, without turning back to seek shelter according to group or nation, in reaction to new global circumstances. There is no turning back. The boat of national self-sufficiency has sailed. Today, we have to take into account the scale of the challenges and of life. In today’s global and interdependent world, Europe, closed and divided, will be flooded by other markets and by other economic and political giants. In the narrative of globalisation, Europe needs to come more to the fore – if we want it to be a place for young people, with our identity of humanism, religion and law intact, rather than merely a retirement place for the next few years for our generation. A world without Europe will lack a power of peace and of historical wisdom.
Today, we are here gathered among Christians. The idea of Europe was not linked to a particular religion, but was itself deeply Christian. And it grew with the Church’s passion of that time. Today, however, when East and West go two separate ways, when the great European ideal, which expresses a Christian extroversion is shaking, where are the voices of Christians? And those of the Churches? When borders turn into walls in front of refugees, where are these voices? When this world is running the risk of getting involved in another war, there is often silence.
The strong voice of Pope Francis – in his address for the Charlemagne Prize – remains isolated in a Christianity as fragmented as Europe itself, incapable of leaving behind group or ecclesial ego-centrism, incapable seemingly of a new vision. Is our joint prayer, the Word of God capable, as in the time of the prophets, of nourishing a new vision for our times in the hearts and minds of our people. We need to start to think and act again in ways that are inspired by a great vision, because for too long now we have been living within narrow dimensions, feeding on words without light. Karol Wojtyla wrote at a time when Europe was divided by a wall: “the world mostly suffers from a lack of vision”.