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The European Union: broadening the vision

Commemorating the Treaty of RomeFor the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the Irish Jesuit Provincial, Fr John Dardis, addressed a gathering in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Faith communities, he remarked, have much to offer the new Europe.


Background to the Treaty of Rome

We come today in a religious context to talk about the treaty of Rome 1957, which has shaped so much of the Europe that we see today and indeed so much of the Ireland.

Reflecting back on the history of the last century, probably the most violent century in world history, is sobering. It was a century which saw two World Wars, the Balkans Conflict and other major tragedies. So much human suffering and loss. That loss and that suffering was made very real to me a few years ago when I was living in Brussels in a Jesuit community with an older German Jesuit. As a small boy he lived in Berlin just at the end of the war. He did not talk much about those experiences. But I am sure that his commitment to peace, to justice, to harmony across Europe was born in that literal fire that was Berlin 1945. Also at that time, I visited the war graves at Flanders. The poignancy of those graves is startling. Many of you have seen pictures or have been there perhaps yourselves. The white crosses, row after row, the litany of names aged 16, age 17, age 18, the nearness of our European countries to each other and yet the suffering that each endured. In this cathedral, you can see plaques commemorating so many who lost their lives. Poignant reminders on this very day of so much that was lost so needlessly.

A vision that led to change

The change from those years to now is startling. This change began after the 2nd World War. It began with a new vision, a new insight. Schumann, Monnet and others identified the source of the conflict – the economic issue of coal and steel – and decided to remove that from the equation. And so the European coal and steel union was founded in 1951, leading to the EEC in 1957, the EC and the EU. The change from those years to now is startling. The peace which is experienced now should never be taken for granted. The disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in recent times, and the catastrophic human suffering that accompanied it, bears testament that Europe must never become complacent about peace.

I want to salute those men today, though I know there are people, perhaps here among you, certainly in this country, who are opposed to the European Movement and opposed to a closer European integration and who think that it has been a negative thing, I am not one who shares that. The Treaty of Rome, signed 50 years ago today, needed courage and vision and today we honour those people who were involved. They were human beings like ourselves with their own concerns and limitations. They showed leadership in difficult times. They had a vision for a different Europe and the courage to make that vision a reality.

Biblical roots of vision, the role of faith communities

The Prophet Micah in today’s first reading gives a biblical example of leadership and vision and in doing so reminds us of the role that faith communities can play in our modern societies. ‘The nations will hammer their swords into ploughs, and their spears into pruning knives’ he says. He paints a picture of a new reality, of what is possible and in painting the picture he draws people to it. “You needn’t languish in what is now”, he is saying ‘you can experience something different”. He is helping people to dream of a new future, giving hope where there is despair and despondency. He is speaking to us today.

And he is giving us a clue as to where Faith can play a part in our modern society. Faith can inspire with a noble vision, with a sense of the transcendent. It says that there is something beyond ourselves, that there are values that call to us and, in the Christian context, the person of Jesus Christ himself who calls to us. The readings we have listened to this afternoon call us to replace war with peace, to love by a willingness to lay down our lives for the sake of the other, to create a Europe where the pattern of relationships is characterised by sense of friendship and mutual belonging. But no call comes without cost. The reading we heard from John’s Gospel reminds us of the cost of love. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. ( Jn 15:13).

Some people today question the role of Churches and faith communities in the new Europe, even asking, at an extreme level, whether faith communities should be allowed a voice. Here is the role par excellence in my view that we can play: to keep providing a vision for a new society and a new world, a vision which challenges narrowness, which calls to love even our enemies. We struggle with that of course. Our imagination limps. We get caught by our cultural limitations. But that is the role that faith communities need to play in this and in all societies. The German Foreign minister in a speech earlier this week alluded to this very positive role of the Churches. As Irish people we can be proud of how centuries before the EU we helped to found Europe, setting up monasteries at Bobbio and elsewhere. Christians here today need to play our part in renewing that Christian heritage at its best: a heritage of inclusivity, of forgiveness, of laying down ones life for one another. These are values needed in the new Europe. Whether they are implicit or explicit in the Constitution or Berlin Declaration they are still needed and Christianity and indeed all faiths have a role to play in fostering them in our civil society.

So many search for meaning and purpose in life and often do not find it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to us of meaning, purpose, love. It speaks to us of working together in a common cause and of making sacrifices for the sake of that cause. The founders of the EU had a vision which transcended narrow nationalism and that looked to a bigger community. The gospel today can nourish such a vision. Europe needs it and risks losing it. We are in an ever more materialistic age. You can buy most things…if you are wealthy enough of course. ‘Eternity’ is now an after shave…by Calvin Klein I think. But sooner or later people realise that what is most precious in life is actually priceless and not to be purchased. Christianity has been one of the most powerful forces shaping Europe, but in an increasingly secular and materialistic context the impact of its message on people’s lives and on political events has diminished significantly. Yet Christianity’s vision of the deeper possibilities of what it means to be human, and the emphasis in Church social teaching on values such as solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good represent rich resources that can inspire and sustain the process of creating a just Europe.

At the heart of the Christian response to the challenges facing Europe, 50 years after the signing of the Treay of Rome, is the challenge of solidarity, one of the fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching. Solidarity, in this understanding, goes beyond a ‘feeling of vague compassion, or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near or far’ and calls for ‘a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all’. (Pope John Paul II, 1987).

Relevance for today – challenges

Today’s anniversary of the treaty of Rome is not just a commemoration or an exercise in congratulating each other. Today too the Spirit of God wants to break through and to break into our hearts. I don’t know what decisions you face in your life or in your country or in your work or what struggles you bring here today. I do know that the Spirit of God is reaching out here in this Cathedral. Through the readings, through the prayers, through our being together. As a religious event this is not a mere historical exercise. The Spirit of God is here today with us, helping us with our particular challenges, giving us vision and insight.

When the European project was started peace was at the core of its vision. A peaceful Europe was built on core principles of human rights, democracy, social and economic solidarity. The achievements of unity and peace in the European Union have been extraordinary and should not be underestimated.

However, in a world divided by massive inequality and poverty, a broader European vision is required more than ever. A Europe peaceful and prosperous cannot ignore the reality of our wider world. ‘Every hour more than 1,200 children die away from the glare of media attention. This is the equivalent of three tsunamis a month, every month, hitting the world’s most vulnerable citizens – its children. The causes of death will vary, but the overwhelming majority can be traced to a single pathology: poverty.’ So opens the Human Development Report 2005.

There is a growing gulf between those who ‘have’, the one fifth of humanity which thinks nothing of spending $2 on a cappuccino, and those who ‘have-not’, the one fifth of humanity that survives on less than a dollar a day. Almost forty years to the day, in Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI proclaimed that ‘Development is the new name for peace’. The European vision of peace must extend beyond its own territories to a vision of peace that is a global one and that addresses global inequalities.

What might the Spirit be saying? What are the challenges we face today? Let me list a few:

a) Migration and Refugees. Here in Ireland we have the challenge of the changing face of this country. The whole island is more international, more multi-ethnic. Poles, Ethiopians, Slovaks, Nigerians, Romanians, Lithuanians and so many others who can now come here to work are adding to the rich tapestry. They challenge and enlarge our view of what it is to be Irish, to be European. They raise questions. Where is the place of compassion in our society? An Ireland of the welcomes will not happen by itself. It will need to be worked at. And the first step is leadership, vision. Remember Micah. He painted a picture, he dreamed a dream of a new future. That is what is needed today. We need a new vision both here in Ireland and across the EU. Without such a vision, we flounder. With the wrong vision, we go in the wrong direction condemned to the confines of our own prejudices.

b) Internal Structures in the EU: present challenges. The rejection of the proposed EU constitution by Dutch and French voters and the absence of reference to the EU Constitution in the Berlin declaration reflects deep divisions about how to move forward. How do we arrive at decision making that remains inclusive yet is more streamlined. These are important issues. The debate over whether that Constitution should acknowledge a Christian heritage is well known to you. It reflects different ways to approach our religious traditions ranging from the French model of laicité to a model that would be more appreciative of the positive role that faith communities can play. All of these are important issues and pertain to how much citizens of the new Europe will feel it is their Europe.

c) And across Europe there are other challenges too. The war in the Balkans has left huge scars with Kosovo and the Balkans being among the worst places on earth for land mines and some of the main victims being children; one moment they are playing together; the next moment they have lost a leg, an arm, an eye. Yes, in Europe even today.

d) The issue of Islam and a proper understanding of this great world religion is another challenge and an opportunity.

e) And Africa, the forgotten continent at our doorstep where there is so much human dignity, so many resources and such great talent but also so much suffering, poverty and death. You have seen pictures, I am sure, of people literally dying to reach our shores here in Europe. You may even have seen that shocking photograph of a beach in the south of Spain. On one end of the beach, a couple sunbathing. Not so far away, the dead body of a migrant or refugee washed up on the sand. For so many in today’s world, the economic system is simply not working and so they vote with their feet, risking hardship and death for the dream of a better life. Surely there is a better way to organise our world. Surely there is a different dream? What is our response? We can go forward in fear building a fortress Europe and vainly trying to keep ever more desperate people out. Or we can go forward with vision and courage, working for a more just world, for a Europe that is confident enough to look beyond its borders and that dares to dream of itself as inclusive.

A few years ago, I spoke in Geneva on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Geneva convention on refugees. I spoke of the human story of struggle and suffering behind each refugee. I spoke of a young man I had met, a refugee from Chechnya, trafficked to Portugal by the Russian mafia, forced to work long hours in construction and when he was not able to continue, both legs were broken by the mafia bosses as a warning to others. Our small NGO, the Jesuit Refugee Service, found him and tried to help.

An emerging issue today in Romania is child suicide. Last year, I saw a newspaper article reporting that an 11 year old Romanian boy committed suicide – his mother had gone to Italy to earn money to buy him a computer and he missed her so much. He was found by his father hanging from a rope in the kitchen. In another case that was reported, Claudiu, aged 15, from Botosani, in eastern Romania, in a suicide note, said he could not cope with the responsibility of looking after his two brothers, aged seven and 11, after both his parents found jobs in Italy. Horrible to hear. Distressing to read. This is the world God asks us to move in. These are the needs God asks us to respond to. In the end that is the reason for today. You and I are trying to reach out to people like that and to say to them: we care, you matter. That is a vital message for today. We owe it to those people, to these Europeans, to give the best response we can, just as Monnet and Schumann owed it to those young men lying dead in Flanders fields. The imperative today is no less strong; it is just different.

What can we do about it? Just as Monnet and Schumann identified the cause of suffering and conflict in their day, we in our day need to identify the root causes of suffering and alientation…and think, find a new vision, act, play our part. The Prophet Micah, speaking to us from thousands of years back, challenges us ‘to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God’.

So while EU Development Ministers debate aid packages, EU Trade Ministers take positions on trade agreements, EU Environment Ministers negotiate reductions in Green House Gas emissions, EU Justice ministers seek to harmonise border controls. These decisions impact directly on the lives of millions of people who live far beyond the borders of Europe. What vision and values are informing these decisions?

I am convinced that Europe today needs broader values and a wider vision than the purely secular and economic ones. Otherwise people will not give allegiance, will not be motivated to make sacrifice. Each country will look to its own interest. Compromise will be impossible to achieve. Perhaps that is the message of the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands about the European Constitution. People are unsure of what Europe now stands for. To be faithful to Monnet and Schuman, not to mention the Gospel, we need to articulate a clearer vision for the new Europe, to dream new dreams and to bring people with us in making those dreams a reality.

Conclusion

As we recall today some of what has been achieved through the European Union and look to the future may we take the widest possible view. A view that reaches out to the entire world, that includes all who inhabit the face of the earth and attends to the needs of the whole human person in body and soul. Let us envision and let us build a Europe of positive freedoms for people based not just on their economic but also on their religious, social and human rights, based on genuine listening to each other, with an openness to be converted to each other’s point of view and free of ideology and prejudice.

40 Years ago the Vatican document Populorum Progressio said that we are called to build a “..world where all people, no matter what their race, religion or nationality, can live fully human lives, freed from servitude imposed on them by others or by natural forces over which they have not sufficient control; a world where freedom is not an empty word…” (Populorum Progressio, n. 47). We can certainly apply that to Europe.