(Source: Joan Planellas, Archbishop of Tarragona; translation: Novena)

The history of the Church shows us how the instrumentalisation of Christianity by politics has been a recurring fact. Almost no trend has been excluded. It is enough to take a look at recent history, from dictatorships to nationalist claims. Moreover, in recent years, certain political populisms have been emerging in various countries in various shades which have made a show of Christian religious symbols.

They have known how to read the real interests of a part of the population that is lost in the face of globalisation, the economic crisis and the most shameless liberalism, and they have presented the Christian roots of countries evangelised long ago as their own identity, offering false comfort to a secularised, multicultural society that is liquid in values and firm, common purposes.

In a simplistic way they have sought a common enemy, but they have not sought it within themselves, but instead have found it outside. And, naturally, the one who comes from outside is the foreign emigrant.

Populism has brought to the surface the nostalgia for an old, secure world, of closed and ethnically and ethically homogeneous spaces, that either truly exist only in the imagination, have never existed or are imaginary bastions of a world that disappeared centuries ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the lie to this vision, because it has made us realise that a simple virus can overcome any wall or border and that the enemy is not the immigrant, but what may be inside us.

In the blink of an eye, we have gone from being discriminators to being discriminated against, because we are the ones who spread disease and therefore our borders are closed to us and our freedom of movement is reduced.

It should also be noted that many leaders of these political movements, despite talking about Christianity, do not have Christian values and present a great contradiction in their personal lives.

Some of them have not even wanted to move the law on abortion in the slightest and, with few moral scruples, they are all at the polar opposites of the Church’s social doctrine. But appropriating certain elements of Christianity and using them for their own benefit has paid off for them.

It should be noted that, at present, the antidote to this instrumentalisation is the magisterium of Pope Francis.

He shows how Christianity is sensitive to the situation of immigrants, to the care for the poor and oppressed, to the defence of life and to the ecological issue, questions that show that the pope does not represent those populisms at all.

Along these lines, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, has said that Europe’s treatment of immigrants is the touchstone of whether or not it is still Christian.

For centuries, Christianity has created schools and hospitals, and has been concerned with the education of children and young people. It has played a role in the social sector that defines its presence in Europe. If it wants to be consistent with its history, it cannot fail to welcome immigrants.

Certainly, we should be vigilant at the global level to prevent the causes of emigration. But, if poverty and war make it necessary to emigrate, a Europe that is Christian must welcome.

As Pope Francis has recalled, Christianity is not based on the culture of fear, but on that of vulnerability, as shown by the life of Jesus Christ, who refused to give the last word to fear. That is why, addressing his disciples, he repeated very often: “Do not be afraid”.

+ Joan Planellas i Barnosell
Metropolitan Archbishop of Tarragona and Primate

More stories on Novena on the Church’s opposition to religious nationalism:

German Lutheran, Catholic Churches criticise political “egotism”, “reciprocal blame games” in EU COVID-19 response

In midst of statue iconoclasm, semi-official Vatican journal extols virtues of “national repentance”

Orthodox Church condemns Christian nationalism: “There could be no greater contradiction of the Gospel”

‘Pope whisperer’ calls on faithful to activate Catholic “antibodies” against populist exploitation of coronavirus


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.