Pope Francis

Pope issues plea to “save” Europe from “frightening” populism

The Pope has issued a stirring call to “save” the historical, cultural and geographical unity of Europe from the “frightening thoughts” and “exaggerations” of nationalism and populism.

“The thinking must be ‘Europe first, then each one of us’. ‘Each one of us’ is not secondary, it is important, but Europe counts more”, said Francis in a interview published Friday with La Stampa.

Driving the news

The unity of Europe “has weakened over the years, partly because of administration problems and internal disagreements. But it must be saved”, the Pope lamented.

He expressed his hope that the new political cycle underway after May’s European Parliament elections might start a “process” to “relaunch” the European project “without interruptions”.

The Pope added that the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, could be “the right person to revive the strength of the Founding Fathers” of Europe.

“Women know how to bring people together, unite”, the Pope observed.

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The big picture

As for the challenges facing Europe today, Francis highlighted one in particular: dialogue.

“Between parties, among people”, he explained.

“In the European Union, we must talk to each other, confront each other and get to know each other. Yet sometimes we see only compromise monologues. No: we also need to listen”, Francis insisted.

As to how that “dialogue” should play out, the Pope explained that it must begin “from our own identity”.

“Our own identity is not negotiable, it integrates itself”, Francis affirmed.

“The problem with exaggerations is that we isolate our own identity instead of open ourselves. Identity is a wealth – cultural, national, historical, artistic – and each country has its own, but it must be integrated with dialogue.

“This is crucial: starting from our own identity we must open to dialogue in order to receive something greater from the identity of others”, the Pope continued.

“Globalization, unity, should not be conceived as a sphere, but as a polyhedron: each people retains its identity in unity with others”.

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Go deeper

When dialogue fails, the Pope explained, two twin dangers present themselves: sovereignism and populism.

“Sovereignism reveals an attitude toward isolation”, Francis said, adding that he is “concerned” that today “we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934. ‘Us first, We…We…'”.

“These are frightening thoughts”, the Pope warned.

“Sovereignism means being closed”, he continued.

“A country should be sovereign but not closed. Sovereignty must be defended, but relations with other countries, with the European community must also be protected and promoted. Sovereignism is an exaggeration that always ends badly: it leads to war”.

On the subject of populism, the Pope explained that “one thing is for people to express themselves, and another is to impose a populist attitude on the people”.

“The people are sovereign (they have their way of thinking, feeling, evaluating, and expressing themselves), while populist movements lead to forms of sovereignism: that suffix, ‘ism’, is never good”, the Pope insisted.

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Why it matters

On the migrant crisis facing Europe today, the Pope was clear, calling on politicians first of all to “never neglect the most important right of all: the right to life”.

“Immigrants come here above all to escape from war or hunger, from the Middle East and Africa”, Francis observed, insisting that Europe’s task is to “commit ourselves and fight for peace” in both regions and to end the “cruel curse” of the exploitation of Africa.

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In terms of welcoming refugees and migrants on the continent, “criteria must be followed”, affirmed the Pope.

“First: to receive, which is also a Christian, evangelical duty. Doors shall be opened, not closed. Second: to accompany. Third: to promote. Fourth, to integrate. At the same time, governments must think and act prudently, which is a virtue of governments. Those in charge are called to think about how many migrants they can take in”, explained Francis.

Those countries which cannot accept any more refugees should turn to “dialogue” and “creativity” to solve the intake problem, the Pope added.

“Some States need people, I am thinking of agriculture… they told me that in a European country there are semi-empty towns due to the demographic decline: some migrant communities could be moved there, which among other things might also revive the economy of the area”, Francis suggested.

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For the record

In sum, for the revitalisation of the European project, “the starting, and restarting, point is human values, values of the human person”, insisted the Pope.

“Together with Christian values: Europe has human and Christian roots, history tells us that. And when I say this, I don’t separate Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. The Orthodox have a very precious role for Europe. We all share the same founding values”, Francis explained.

What’s next

Apart from Europe, the Pope also referred in his new interview to October’s Pan-Amazon Synod.

He said the possible reintroduction into the Church of married priests will “absolutely not” be one of the Synod’s main themes, despite recent conservative fears.

The ordination of married men “is simply a topic of the working document”, the Pope explained, adding that “the important thing will be the ministries of evangelization and the different ways of evangelizing” in the Amazon.

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The focus at the Synod will also be on the “global emergency” that is the safeguarding of the Amazon, added the Pope.

“It is a representative and decisive place. Together with the oceans it contributes decisively to the survival of the planet. Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from there. That’s why deforestation means killing humanity”, Francis warned.

The Pope explained that Amazon Synod is a “child” of Laudato si’, his encyclical on care for our common home.

“Those who have not read it will never understand the Synod on the Amazon”, the Pope lamented.

Laudato si’ is not a green encyclical, it is a social encyclical, which is based on a ‘green’ reality, the custody of Creation”, Francis explained.

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