Together for Europe: hope needs a vision
Prof. Andrea Riccardi
We are gathered here in Munich at a great ecumenical event which sees German Catholics and evangelicals, but also Orthodox Christians witnessing together to the joy of their faith.
It is no coincidence that this meeting takes place during the time of Easter, an Easter that this year has seen the Western Christians and Eastern Christians proclaim on the same day that Christ is risen from the dead. This is not a fortuitous coincidence, but a sign that illuminates the value of Christian unity. Easter is not a fest that comes again and again, but Easter has a particular historical significance. We cannot just throw Easter behind us. We must learn from our Orthodox friends the value of Easter. I am always touched when they say with all their strength: Christ is risen, truly he is risen.
Yes, dear friends, there is much need of the Gospel of resurrection in our world. It 's a request for life that comes strong from Haiti after the devastating earthquake of January 13th, that caused hundreds of thousands of victims in an extremely poor country.
In that very earthquake there is a request for resurrection, for solidarity that challenges us deeply as Europeans.
But today who speaks any more about Haiti? Yet this poor country without a state, the child of a very harsh history, is still there, living among the ruins of the earthquake.
The world has changed. We are in a new century. Even in the last two decades change has been intense. But often we just look at our country or at our own religious community.
Each community has its own problems of course. But this is not enough. Today's challenges can only be understood looking at broader horizons. The globalized world requires a broader vision. Not a vision that is flattened on the models proper of a globalized culture.
In fact we all run the risk of conformity. We need a Christian view, a bold view that is able to exit our particularism that is nothing else but fear and mistrust of the world.
Jesus at Jacob's well in the land of the Samaritans, says to the disciples who were engaged in petty discussions: "Lift your eyes and look at the fields" (Jn 4:36).
I will try to lift my eyes and look at the fields of the world together with you. I would like to do it, being aware of the limits of my experience as a European Christian, an historian, a traveler through the world's events, who has been led, especially by the experience of the Community of Sant'Egidio, to be in contact with the many lands of poverty. Compared with many parts of the world, Europe clearly appears full of resources. These include above all peace, the precious heritage of over sixty years of peace (on these days we remember the sixty years from the Schuman Declaration that started the process of European integration). In the twentieth century, 20 years passed between the two world wars. Then came the war in 1939. I, an Italian, born in 1950- and now you all my age- throughout my life have never known war in my country.
It is not the story of my parents or my grandparents. It is the great gift of peace. Chiara Lubich, who I remember with love, knew it well. She was born in Trentino, she was Italian but on the gates of the German world. Since her youth she felt the tragedy of war between Europeans. The charisma of her movement, unity, matured under the bombs, as a Christian hope for a continent.
From the abyss of World War II, Europeans finally understood how foolish it is to fight. How many years were stolen from women, children, and men by the foolishness of war, by unprecedented violence and by bloodshed!
From the abyss of World War II, from the abyss of the Holocaust, Europeans have understood: never again one against the other but always one with the other!
From here came the process of European unification. Today, in our continent, there is peace and there is widespread well-being (although we see poverty advancing in our continent because of the worrisome economic crisis ).
If we look at the wide world, our continent is a land of widespread prosperity. Peace and prosperity ...Peace may seem normal to our young people, but it is extraordinary in our centuries long history
Peace is a blessing from God and a holy gift! But what to do with this legacy of peace?
The looming temptation is to waste it : we dissipate it living for ourselves and not loving life.
Living for oneself often leads to no love for life, to despise it especially when it is poor, weak, nascent elderly. Living for oneself becomes the logic of the market. Practical materialism, after the Marxist one dominates much of the European culture and eats away the space for gratuitousness (for free and voluntary commitment).
We witness the crisis of the community, the family, the local community. Solidarity becomes weaker. Mercy for the poor diminishes.
The problem of defending the poor becomes less acute while grows the problem of defending ourselves from the poor.
Yes defending ourselves from the poor! We are obsessed with security policies. Elections are won by means of security slogans. At least so they say.
Our countries may be tempted to live by themselves in the resurgent nationalistic passion. Nationalist passions today stem not from the will to dominate others, but by a desire to live for oneself.
There is a strong temptation to take refuge in one’s own Heimat, large or small it may be.
It is an anti-historical position: most European countries, small or medium, cannot face alone the challenges of the world, of Islam, of the economies and cultures of the major Asian countries like China and India . Our Heimat does not last long without Europe. Indeed there is the risk that Europe will withdraw itself from history, as Benedict XVI said.
I underlined it last year while I received the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen: “the culture of living for oneself leads to national, local, regional selfishness ... But, eventually when they live for themselves, a man and a woman die, when a nation lives only for itself it eventually dies, a community dies. Europe risks to withdraw itself from history and decline into chronicle. We are imprisoned by the daily chronicle (by daily news) , by the debates of our own countries that are shouted one day and forgotten the next. All this is not history, it's just news. Is Europe writing history or merely limited to chronicles and news?
It is another way of wasting peace, the heritage of so many sorrows and of much labor of the twentieth century: Europe is a fortress that raises walls at its borders. But if you raise walls to defend yourself, the demons of the twentieth century are going to come back, the demons of fratricidal wars.
The walls are created by the fear of a world that has become too large, with too many characters that are dynamic and strong. Our European history is extroversion from the continent: we were curious and interested in the world. It was a history of conquests and imperialism, with negative consequences; a missionary history. Europe cannot become an island protected like a fortress.
Europeans are tempted to withdraw from history: perhaps saying they do not want to hurt as they did in the past. We are no longer what we were.
There's decline: it is stated by demographic projections. But there is a lack of visions for the future. Often politics is reduced to the realism of finance.
In recent decades, Europe has seen the consumption of political ideas and of social utopia, the Marxist ideology, socialism, ideas that wanted to change society ... All become cautious in thinking about the future. Do we live in a culture of decline?
Thirty years ago, John Paul II, elected pope, said with prophetic force: "Do not be afraid." He repeated with new conviction the ancient Easter call that is repeated by the whole Bible, because fear envelops much of the human history.
Inaction in the world and building walls does not chase fear away . Fear is within us, it is the child of vacuum. Nationalistic drug do not chase it away. The courage of being ourselves does not come from identifying enemies.- This is an easy choice when we lift Christianity as a banner against enemies. We Europeans are not any more what we were, But then what will we be?
We will be what we women and men are able to live and communicate. Europe is uncertain and fearful, but full of peace and prosperity. And we Christians of Europe? Lamp for our feet is the Word of God: the Word shows us the path. Jesus tells the women at the tomb: "Do not be afraid; I know that ye seek Jesus who was crucified "(Matthew 28.6). Those seeking Jesus the crucified are saved from fear. In the twentieth century it was the new martyrs: I think Paul Schneider, evangelical pastor, who on Easter Sunday, from the small opening in the cell of the bunker where he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp, shouted the gospel of the resurrection for the prisoners who were lined up for the roll call. By doing so he communicated hope. The blows of the guards could not silence him. I think about many pastors, Catholics, Evangelical, Orthodox who were imprisoned in a nearby concentration camp at Dachau. Through terrible trials they lived a deep communion instilling courage and hope to each other.
The search for Jesus the crucified gave the martyrs a humble strength in their facing the strong powers, a weak force. Europe in the twentieth century has experienced the age of martyrdom.
In more recent years I remember the testimony of Brother Roger Schutz, a Swiss reformed who in the heart of the war, began an ecumenical experience in Taizé, making it a crossroads of European young people and a sanctuary of peace and faith.
Old in age he was killed in 2005 while he was praying among young people. His death sopeaks about a defenseless life, offered to young people on the hill of Taizé.
The Christianity of this man and that many other troubles a tired and short-sighted European conscience.
The search for Jesus the crucified, can disturb the culture of fear, the dissipation of peace, prosperity and freedom.
Martin Buber wisely said: "To begin with oneself: is the only thing that matters ... the Archimedean point from which we can lift up the world is the transformation of myself."
The spiritual man begins to from himself but does not renounce to change the world. It is the way of conversion. It starts from your heart and lifts the world! It lifts the world from evil, from misery that also lives in the wealthy Europe that has forgotten the word "justice", from the misery of the South of the world, from the misery of widespread violence, and war ...
Spiritual men and women do not give their hope of lifting the world up. Economic providentialism is not enough to show us the future.
Indeed, the economic crisis, we are still living, showed us how the market is not providence.
And the economic crisis we are experiencing, will carry rich countries to increasingly focus on their problems.
We need a life full of faith and love in this Europe of poor vision for the future.
The apostle Paul testifies to the cornerstone of Christian Europe: "the love of Christ urges us to think that one died for all and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them "(2 Cor 5:14-15).
It 's a thought that worries: those who live, not live for themselves but for him who died and rose again for us! This is an alternative approach to large a part of the European mentality.
Christians must be free from fear and insatiable greed which is the idolatry that make us live for ourselves, powerless, closed in , engaged in petty family quarrels, within a framework that is rich in a period of prosperity and peace. Who cares for those who are outside of Europe '.
Even our movements, our communities may be tempted to live for themselves, they may be tempted by self-reference. Let us not be affected by the European disease. Will we be capable of challenging the culture and practice of countries, communities, men who live for themselves? Will we attract with the joy of finally being real men and women? The great Jewish teacher Hillel said: "If you're in a circumstance where there are no men, strive to be a man." Strive to be a man, human! This is how we crack the politically correct way of life of living for ourselves. We crack the Fortress Europe, the selfish myopia of European nations closed in themselves.
In 1968, in his dialogue with Patriarch Athenagoras, Olivier Clément, one of the great Christians of our time, already pointed out an incipient process of globalization: "... on one side a planetary man, in a story that becomes the world: ...on the other side other people that cling to their originality ... ".
And the patriarch, father of the twentieth century ecumenism, answered: "We Christians must place ourselves in the joint of these two motions, trying to harmonize them ... churches as sisters peoples as brothers: these should be our example and our message."
Not living for oneself is to find a peaceful balance between globalizing unification and growing particularism. The European countries cannot live only for a national future: there is a unification process that needs to progress.
They are afraid of losing something today, but tomorrow the European states will be lost if they are alone. The unification of Europe is not a bureaucracy or a building without a soul, without passion.
Christians as brothers (which is ecumenism) must be the soul and passion for the peoples of Europe.
There are many skeptics of ecumenism. There are several reasons. But the unity of Christians is a commandment of the Lord.
Should we surrender the commandment of love, because men still hate each other? We must not abandon the commandment of unity. We need each other. Ecumenism is an exchange of gifts. Our friend Helmut Nicklas, had understood it. I want to remember him today when we are gathered in his hometown. We received so much one from the others in these ten years, dear friends.
There is a deep mysterious connection, between the peace and unity among Christians and the peace and unity of the world.
This is why we cannot allow the passion for ecumenism to cool off, as it often happens in academic and diplomatic dialogues.
Travelling around the world, I perceive a request addressed to Europe. I returned a few days ago from Guinea Conakry where a beautiful community of Sant'Egidio lives and works. From that country, more than ten years ago two teenagers set off one night by entering the landing gear of a flight to Europe. Yaguine and Fodé, so they were called, were found frozen to death. They had with them a message addressed to the "European excellencies": "We suffer enormously in Africa, we lack rights for children, we have wars, food shortages, disease ...." So they wrote. Isn’t this request a vocation for Europe?
The European war twice in the twentieth century, has become global. The peace of Europe must be contagious in the world!
Today, in our current mentality, war is rehabilitated as a tool to solve problems. Even few people, just look at terrorism, can make war and can make many people suffer. But war and violence are an expression of evil!
European Christians have a responsibility to peace in the world. It 's a mission. You can win the demons of war and violence. Christians have a force of peace. I say this from the experience of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Africa (for example the realization of peace in Mozambique after a war that had killed one million people). Today anyone can work for peace, not only big states. Europe, the source of two world wars, should not be the cause of world peace? It is up to us Christians to ask it to our governments.
It is up to us Christians to find our power to liberate people from the evil of war, the evil of violence. It 's a terrible disease that can be cured.
A Europe that does not live for and by itself cannot forget Africa. Africa’s future is joined to Europe’s. Today Africa is a land of pain, disease and violence, but is also a land of new Chinese expansion with its offer of capitalism and authoritarianism, land of great opportunity.
Great Europeans have indicated that Europe and Africa share a common destiny: like Albert Schweitzer, theologian, exegete, who spent most of his life with African patients. But I also think of great Africans like Senegalese President Senghor. His dream was Eurafrica two continents together on an equal footing, one that needs the other. We are worried today for the twenty-two million HIV positive and AIDS patients in Africa, which largely cannot be treated because of the high price of drugs, while AIDS is treated across Europe. In many parts of the world there is no free health system in Côte d'Ivoire, when a pregnant woman cannot pay for the Caesarean, they do not do it and she may easily die together with the child. In Central America, those who cannot pay for chemotherapy, die.
This is a shameful detachment of Europe, it feasts sumptuously while Lazarus dies on its doorstep. He dies of disease, hunger and lack of water. Think of the "unseen" children in Africa. About 70% of African children not registered at birth. They have no right to a name, do not exist for anyone. What will become of them?
Justice cannot be absent from our prophecy. It 's a word of which we lost, after so much political use, the deeply biblical eco. But Jesus in the beatitudes proposes it once again, with a look of love for those who thirst for it.
Justice must trouble the economic policies of our countries, where there are too many poor; it must stir the economic relations between us and the world, with Africa. Yes, Africa must be thought together with Europe, because it is a test of morality in international politics.
A great Pope, Paul VI, fifty years ago, wrote: "'a planetary humanism should be promoted." It noted: "The world is sick. Its evil lies not so much in the depletion of resources or in their hoarding by some but in the lack of brotherhood among men and among peoples. " Europe – it comes from our being believers, may find its place in the world working for a planetary humanism. For this we must be bold, but also believers and brothers.
European Christianity has a history of love for the South. Christian communities, according to their history, can be audaciously committed in reviving brotherhood between peoples. Cannot now Europe be an agent of brotherhood among peoples?
Don’t European Christians have the responsibility of a ministry of peace in the world?
From the lives of spiritual women and men in Europe can flow: a planetary humanism, peace initiatives and solidarity, a world seen as the common house of nations and men. Furthermore climate change (now perceived by everyone in their effects) shows that the earth is indeed a common house. But it is also shown by the terrible natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti. We discovers a terrible interdependence. Where will three million Haitians go, what will they do? Increasingly, the fate of peoples is linked as in a common home.
From Christians who hear the Word of God, who pray, who rebuild the shattered unity, comes a responsible love that becomes a mission, that becomes no longer live for oneself becomes. A humanism that can become global is born. Today's Europe is not what it was. It can have a mission in the world.
We can lift the world (we people and men) from the bondage of war and poverty, from slavery of violence, from the prison of a life spent only for oneself, if we open our hearts to the Gospel, if we join in prayer, if we look at our brothers and sisters with love. St. Seraphim of Sarov taught wisely: "achieve peace in yourself and thousands around you will find salvation." Yes, if the Europeans, if European Christians, will not live for themselves, if they achieve the peace of Christ, millions around them, in Europe and beyond, will find peace and salvation!
May, dear friends, the Holy Spirit of God that we receive at Pentecost, the spirit of fortitude and love, guide us in the days to come. We now face a great task! I now seeing your faces, I have great hope and confidence.
Prof. Andrea Riccardi