Pope Francis has warned that Europe may been heading down the same slippery slope as pre-Nazi Germany as he sounded the alarm at the same time on ideologies that “sectarianise” and “deconstruct” the political, social and cultural reality of the homeland.

– A warning agains the “alibis” of “modernity and restorationism”

The pontiff’s warning came in an audience Saturday with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and a delegation including Sánchez’s wife, Begoña Gómez, and the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, Carmen de la Peña.

Breaking with tradition, the Pope improvised an eight-minute-long speech to the Spanish delegation, on the mission of politicians to care “for the country, for the nation and for the homeland”.

In the course of his unscripted remarks, Francis praised as “very nice” and “worth reading” a book by Siegmund Ginzberg, Sindrome 33, which explores the similarities between the rise of National Socialism in Weimar Germany and the situation in Europe today in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis and now of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The most difficult thing in politics” is “to make the homeland grow”, the Pope warned Prime Minister Sánchez.

“Because there are always alibis. Alibis disguised as modernity or restorationism”, which the politician is called to navigate between in order “to make the country grow, to consolidate the nation and to build the homeland”, Francis explained.

– “It is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation and disfigure the homeland”

Full text of the Pope’s address

(Source: Holy See Press Office; translation: Novena)

I greet you all and thank you very much.

Thinking about what I could say to you, in recognising in you the work of politicians: Pope Paul VI, also taking up a tradition of another Pope [Pius XI], said that politics was one of the highest forms of charity.

Politics is not only an art, but for Christians it is an act of charity; it ennobles and often leads to the sacrifice of one’s life, one’s privacy, so many things, for the good of others, and this is because the politician has a very difficult mission on their hands, very difficult. With three aspects, let’s say: for the country, for the nation and for the homeland.

[The politician] has the mission to make the country progress, through agriculture, farming, mining, research, education, art. To make the country grow, to make the country grow. And this is exhausting.

[The politician] has the mission of consolidating the nation: not only taking care of the borders, which is already a lot, but the nation as a body of laws, of ways of conducting business, of habits.

Consolidating the nation; and [the politician] has the mission of making the homeland grow. Country, nation and homeland are in the politician’s hands. Quite a lot of work.

I know that it is not easy for you, so please convey to the members of your parliament what the Pope thinks of this: my great respect for the political vocation, one of the highest forms of charity.

While it seems easy to move a country forward, it is not. It requires continuous international relations in trade, science, technology, everything. Consolidating the nation sometimes involves difficulties in understanding localisms, which exist in all countries – the dialects. But also in understanding the law, justice, of making the nation stronger and stronger.

Perhaps the most difficult thing is to make the homeland progress because there we enter into a relationship of filiation. The homeland is something we have received from our elders. Homeland [patria]: fatherhood [paternidad] comes from there, and it is something we have to give to our children.

We are passing through the homeland. And building the homeland is what I would say in this case. If we want to make the country progress, we have to consolidate it with the nation and we have to build it with the homeland. To build the homeland with everyone. That is not easy.

In building the homeland we are not allowed to wipe the slate clean. It is allowed in enterprise, but not in the homeland, because it is something we have received. And we are not allowed to take refuge in what it was 50, 100 years ago.

The challenge of receiving from the roots in order to bear fruit. There is a very beautiful poem by Bernárdez [a sonnet by Francisco Luis Bernárdez] that says: “Everything that the tree has in its flowers comes from what it has in the ground” but that did not stay in the roots.

Perhaps the traditionalist fantasy is to return to the roots. I take inspiration. I am a son, but I also have to be a father in the future. And for that I have to live a present that involves discernment. And that is not easy.

For me that is the most difficult thing in politics: to make the homeland grow. Because there are always alibis. Alibis disguised as modernity or restorationism. There are various movements. But alibis for the country to be what I want it to be and not what I have received and which I have to grow freely, and that is where ideologies come in: to build a country out of my head, out of my mind, with my idea, not with the reality of the people that I received, that I am carrying forward, that I am living.

Two years ago – perhaps you know, Madam Ambassador – a book by an Italian intellectual from the Communist Party was published here in Rome. It has a very suggestive title: Sindrome 1933. Do you know it? One with a red cover. Very nice. It’s worth reading.

It refers to Germany, obviously. With the fall of the Weimar Republic, a whole salad of possibilities arose as ways to get out of the crisis. That marked the beginning of an ideology, the path of National Socialism, that continued on to become what we know: the drama of Europe with that homeland invented by an ideology.

Because ideologies sectarianise, ideologies deconstruct the homeland; they do not build. We learn this from history. In this book the author, very delicately, makes a comparison with what is happening in Europe. He says: Beware that we are going down the same path. It is worth reading.

With these words, I simply want to remind politicians that their mission is a very high form of charity and love. It is not a matter of manoeuvring or solving the problems that come across politicians’ desks every day, but of service on all three levels: to make the country grow, to consolidate the nation and to build the homeland.

And it is very sad when ideologies take over the interpretation of a nation, a country and disfigure the homeland.

Jorge Dragone’s poem “Se nos murió la patria” [“Our homeland died”] comes to mind at this point. It is the most painful requiem I have ever read and of extraordinary beauty. I hope it never happens to us.

Mr Prime Minister, I thank you for your visit. I thank you for coming. It is very gratifying and I ask you, please, to pray for me. And those who do not pray, because they are not believers, at least send me some good vibes, which I need. Thank you very much.

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