Andrea Riccardi: Europe; beyond the crisis, hope

Brussels 12th May 2012, Brussels Square Meeting Centre Together for Europe.


“Dear friends, we cannot conceal the European crisis from ourselves. It is rooted in other crises, like the economic crisis gripping many countries. How can it be overcome? It is not the time to talk of recipes. Even though the message often conveyed today is: you can overcome the crisis by yourself, by focusing on yourself. There is a human root to the crisis, perhaps the mother of the crises, and it is the loneliness of many Europeans. It is the condition of a number of people: many nets of togetherness have faded away: political parties, associations, families. Today Europeans are more lonely in their lives and think of themselves as alone.

Besides, we are confronted with a culture marked by individualism, which affects our personal lives, jobs, and far beyond. The crisis of the idea of a common European destiny is part of a broader picture of crisis of communities of life and destiny. This reflects in the single countries. One of its facets – not the least important – is the lack of visions for the future. There is an incredible need of visions, because visions are icons of hope that need to be contemplated in order not to fall into pessimism.

Indeed, if a completely individualistic concept of life can offer moments of exhilaration and satisfaction, the lack of a sense of community generates an atmosphere of pessimism. So we Europeans, clouded over, run the risk of giving up making history: “to go down in history, no longer making history” Jurgen Habermas wrote, or “taking leave of history” said Benedict XVI. For fear of a world too big and too complex. It seems we need to defend ourselves from history and from the world. This was the attitude after 11th September 2001, the day of the terrible attacks against the United States. We need to defend ourselves from the excessive aggressiveness of an enemy or from history.

A French philosopher, Alexandre Lacroix, asked himself: “Are we like the Romans of the late empire, at the last chapter of our glorious (and violent) history? Hedonistic and cynical, heedless of laws and of God, incapable of taking anything seriously except ourselves, not able to project ourselves in the future, grown lazy in comfort, shallow and spoilt, do we deserve to be overcome by other peoples, younger, more ambitious and stronger than we are?”. Is Europe a declining continent? No longer the centre of the world in a world without a centre? There is a yearning to cut ourselves down to size, to find reassurances, recover our borders. It is an illusion. Alone, most European countries will be unable to deal with the global challenges, the economic crisis, the confrontation with the Asian giants. Do not deceive yourselves. If we are not together, individual European countries will be quantité négligeable. And our values will be diluted in the currents of globalization: it would be a loss for the planet in terms of freedom and humanity.

We cannot be resigned to this decline. The appointment of Christians in Brussels is a powerful signal: “Together for Europe”. Fifty years have passed since Vatican II. We do not remember it as nostalgic old men. The Council remains a nourishment for visions of the future. On 11th October 1962, upon opening the Second Vatican Council, an eighty-year-old John XXIII said words of hope:

“Often we are told of voices that … are incapable of seeing other than ruin and trouble. Voices saying that our times, if compared to the past, are worse. We feel we need to disagree with these prophets of misfortune. In the current state of human events, whereby humanity seems about to enter a new order…”. We too, fifty years later, disagree with the prophets of misfortune: concerning the decline of Europe and the fact that the individualistic culture must inevitably prevail. The Council and the European Union are closely linked. The Council was, after 1945, the first pan-European event, gathering together bishops from both sides, in spite of the cold war. Furthermore, it projected – well before anyone mentioned globalization – European Christians into the world, inaugurating ecumenism./p>

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