“Populism is counter to the spirit of Europe”, cardinal-elect Jean-Claude Hollerich has said.

Driving the news

Hollerich spoke to SIR nearly a week after Pope Francis announced he would become a cardinal in a consistory on October 5.

The Jesuit Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) revealed that the news of his new appointment had reached even the migrants on the Mare Jonio rescue ship.

At the time of Höllerich’s appointment, those refugees were being denied entry by Italian authorities into the port of Lampedusa.

“I was deeply moved, especially by one of the many messages I received. It came from the Mare Jonio vessel. They expressed their joy for my nomination, along with that of Father Michael Czerny and the Archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi. We are all persons who stand by the refugees, they said: ‘the Pope has not forgotten us'”, Hollerich told SIR.

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Go deeper

One of the most troubling aspects of the European political panorama today is the growth in countries such as Poland and Hungary of far-right populism, the often crude appeal to “the people” against a political “elite” determined to push – or so the narrative goes – globalisation, mass immigration and pan-European, as opposed to national, identity.

But according to Hollerich, “populism is the opposite of what is European”.

Populism “artificially recreates an identity and turns it against others. However, identity is constantly changing. It is never permanent. Moreover, even as Europeans, we belong to a diverse reality in which many groups with many identities coexist. If all this is ignored and denied, it becomes painful”, the cardinal-elect explained.

Populism, he continued, is “the attitude of whoever is opposed to others, of those who always need to identify an enemy, those who disseminate hate speech”.

“Whoever acts in this way goes against the Gospel”, Hollerich added.

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For the record

The growth of populism in Europe is such that even Pope Francis “is concerned” about it, Hollerich revealed.

Just like the Pope is also concerned about Brexit.

On the subject of the departure of the UK from the European Union, the cardinal-elect directed an appeal to politicians “to do everything they can to preserve the friendship and the fruitful cooperation between the United Kingdom and the European Union”.

“There must be no enemies between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It would be fatal”, Hollerich said.

“And it would be contrary to the very idea of Europe. To the English people, I would like to say: we regret it, but we respect the vote you have cast.

“People in the Member States of the European Union are not your enemies but your friends. We would be poorer without you. We need what England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland have to offer. We need your history and your culture. We will miss you. Without you we will be poorer”.

The cardinal-elect added that in the case of a ‘hard’ Brexit, he hoped that “policies will be put in place to protect the most vulnerable”.

“It’s like the environmental crisis: the poorest are always the ones who pay the highest price. It’s not fair”, Hollerich said.

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Why it matters

Rather than fall prey to populism, Europe today is instead called “to undertake a mission of peace in the world”, the cardinal-elect explained.

Pope Francis wants a “social Europe, for the most disadvantaged”, Hollerich added, with full employment, especially for youth.

“The Pope would like to see a Europe that shows solidarity with the poor in the world. A Europe devoid of unbridled capitalism but with an economic system that values ethics and people’s rights”, the Jesuit said.

He added that Francis, too, wants Europe to desist in its sale of weapons, especially to countries at war, and to become more “environmentally responsible”.

Hollerich said that another priority of the Pope’s is the reception of refugees.

That’s a task on which the European Churches are called to “collaborate” with Governments, he added.

“We have many dioceses in Europe, if each one pledges to receive 2 or 3 families, it would be a great contribution to the emergency situation”, he explained, referring to the ‘humanitarian corridors’ to Europe established by the Sant’Egidio Community.

“Europe needs spiritual renewal, a new evangelization”, Hollerich insisted.

“All the teachings of Pope Francis – dedication to the poor, to refugees, to the environment – are a call to change our lives starting from our everyday life. Spiritual renewal and daily commitment are two forces that must be combined. Only in this way will there be a new evangelization in Europe”.

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