“Poverty is the biggest challenge for the future”, Belgian cardinal Jozef De Kesel has warned.

Driving the news

“We are experiencing crucial times, in our own country, in Europe and on a global level. Consider the future of the European Union or the climate issue”, De Kesel, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Belgian Bishops’ President, told Kerk & Leven (“Church & Life”) in an interview for Christmas.

“However, I believe that poverty is the biggest problem for the future”, the cardinal admitted, warning that “when the number of people who feel that they do not count becomes too large, a society comes under pressure”.

Go deeper

De Kesel explained that his concern for the growing numbers of poor pushed him to support social security in his homily for the traditional King’s Feast Te Deum on November 15 this year.

The welfare state “is fundamental to Western European society after the Second World War”, the cardinal recalled.

De Kesel referred to the calls to cut social benefits, and acknowledged that no one – not the poor, workers, migrants or refugees or even the ordinary Belgian citizen – should take advantage of the system.

“I know that savings have to be made, but what do we want to save on and what not? Which society do we want, one in which everyone has the right to medical care or one in which everyone has to manage his or her own beans? We cannot hide too quickly behind a discourse on economic laws”, the cardinal urged.

Why it matters

De Kesel also referred in his interview to the Church’s position on life issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

That first issue is currently a point of fierce debate in Belgium, as the Federal Parliament’s Justice Committee has just sent a bill decriminalising voluntary interruptions to pregnancy to the full legislature.

“Certainly, self-determination and individual are positive”, De Kesel said.

However, the cardinal added that, for the Church, “that freedom is never absolute. We are also always connected to each other.

“I… think of women who opt for abortion for economic reasons. Can we not help them in any other way?”, De Kesel further wondered.

For the record

On the question of refugees and migrants, the Belgian cardinal took pains to point out that the Church’s doctrine is clear on the need to welcome the stranger.

“Individual voices sometimes sound opposing, but both at the policy level and at the base, the Church calls for solidarity”, De Kesel insisted.

“I understand the fear of this and I realize that it is by no means simple for those with political responsibility.

“However, when we can no longer empathize with those who fled and had to leave everything behind, what kind of society do we slip into?”

“The Church opts for a warm and solidary society, no matter how you interpret it politically”, Cardinal De Kesel stressed.

“After all, you cannot reduce Christianity to a political program”.

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