Vatican City, 25 November 2014 (VIS) – At midday the Holy Father proceeded by car to the seat of the Council of Europe, where he met the authorities, including the secretary general Thorbjørn Jagland, who accompanied him to the lobby of the Committee of Ministers. This was followed by an exchange of gifts, after which they entered the Great Hall where, following greetings and the opening discourse by the secretary general, the Pontiff addressed those present, thanking them for their invitation and for their “work and contribution to peace in Europe through the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.
He continued, “This year the Council of Europe celebrates its sixty-fifth anniversary. It was the intention of its founders that the Council would respond to a yearning for unity which, from antiquity, has characterised the life of the continent. Frequently, however, in the course of the centuries, the pretension to power has led to the dominance of particularist movements. … The dream of the founders was to rebuild Europe in a spirit of mutual service which today too, in a world more prone to make demands than to serve, must be the cornerstone of the Council of Europe’s mission on behalf of peace, freedom and human dignity”.
On the other hand, the road to peace, and avoiding a repetition of what occurred in the two World Wars of the last century, “is to see others not as enemies to be opposed but as brothers and sisters to be embraced. This entails an ongoing process which may never be considered fully completed. This is precisely what the founders grasped. They understood that peace was a good which must continually be attained, one which calls for constant vigilance. … Consequently, the founders voiced their desire to advance slowly but surely with the passage of time. That is why the founders established this body as a permanent institution. Pope Paul VI, several years later, observed that 'the institutions which in the juridical order and in international society have the task and merit of proclaiming and preserving peace, will attain their lofty goal only if they remain continually active, if they are capable of creating peace, making peace, at every moment'. What is called for is a constant work of humanisation, for 'it is not enough to contain wars, to suspend conflicts ... An imposed peace, a utilitarian and provisional peace, is not enough. Progress must be made towards a peace which is loved, free and fraternal, founded, that is, on a reconciliation of hearts'”.
Achieving the good of peace first calls for education in peace, “banishing a culture of conflict aimed at fear of others, marginalising those who think or live differently … Tragically, peace continues all too often to be violated. This is the case in so many parts of the world where conflicts of various sorts continue to rage. It is also the case here in Europe, where tensions persist”, he said. “Yet peace is also put to the test by other forms of conflict, such as religious and international terrorism, which displays deep disdain for human life and indiscriminately reaps innocent victims. This phenomenon is unfortunately bankrolled by a frequently unchecked traffic in weapons. The Church is convinced that 'the arms race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured'. Peace is also violated by trafficking in human beings, the new slavery of our age, which turns persons into merchandise for trade and deprives its victims of all dignity. Not infrequently we see how interconnected these phenomena are. The Council of Europe, through its Committees and Expert Groups, has an important and significant role to play in combating these forms of inhumanity. … Peace is not merely the absence of war, conflicts and tensions. In the Christian vision, peace is at once a gift of God and the fruit of free and reasonable human acts aimed at pursuing the common good in truth and love”.
“The path chosen by the Council of Europe is above all that of promoting human rights, together with the growth of democracy and the rule of law. This is a particularly valuable undertaking, with significant ethical and social implications, since the development of our societies and their peaceful future coexistence depends on a correct understanding of these terms and constant reflection on them. … In your presence today, then, I feel obliged to stress the importance of Europe’s continuing responsibility to contribute to the cultural development of humanity.
“Throughout its history, Europe has always reached for the heights, aiming at new and ambitious goals, driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, development, progress, peace and unity. … But in order to progress towards the future we need the past, we need profound roots. We also need the courage not to flee from the present and its challenges. We need memory, courage, a sound and humane utopian vision. … Truth appeals to conscience, which cannot be reduced to a form of conditioning. Conscience is capable of recognising its own dignity and being open to the absolute; it thus gives rise to fundamental decisions guided by the pursuit of the good, for others and for one’s self; it is itself the locus of responsible freedom. … It also needs to be kept in mind that apart from the pursuit of truth, each individual becomes the criterion for measuring himself and his own actions. The way is thus opened to a subjectivistic assertion of rights, so that the concept of human rights, which has an intrinsically universal import, is replaced by an individualistic conception of rights”.
“This kind of individualism leads to human impoverishment and cultural aridity, since it effectively cuts off the nourishing roots on which the tree grows. Indifferent individualism leads to the cult of opulence reflected in the throwaway culture all around us. … And so today we are presented with the image of a Europe which is hurt, not only by its many past ordeals, but also by present-day crises which it no longer seems capable of facing with its former vitality and energy; a Europe which is a bit tired and pessimistic, besieged by events and winds of change coming from other continents. … Europe should reflect on whether its immense human, artistic, technical, social, political, economic and religious patrimony is simply an artefact of the past, or whether it is still capable of inspiring culture and displaying its treasures to mankind as a whole. In providing an answer to this question, the Council of Europe with its institutions has a role of primary importance”.
“The history of Europe might lead us to think somewhat naively of the continent as bipolar, or at most tripolar … and thus to interpret the present and to look to the future on the basis of this schema, which is a simplification born of pretentions to power. But this is not the case today, and we can legitimately speak of a 'multipolar' Europe. Its tensions – whether constructive or divisive – are situated between multiple cultural, religious and political poles. Europe today confronts the challenge of creatively 'globalising' this multipolarity” which calls for “striving to create a constructive harmony, one free of those pretensions to power which, while appearing from a pragmatic standpoint to make things easier, end up destroying the cultural and religious distinctiveness of peoples”.
To speak of European multipolarity is to speak of peoples which are born, grow and look to the future. The task of globalising Europe’s multipolarity cannot be conceived by appealing to the image of a sphere – in which all is equal and ordered, but proves reductive inasmuch as every point is equidistant from the centre – but rather, by the image of a polyhedron, in which the harmonic unity of the whole preserves the particularity of each of the parts”.
“The second challenge which I would like to mention is transversality. … Were we to define the continent today, we should speak of a Europe in dialogue, one which puts a transversality of opinions and reflections at the service of a harmonious union of peoples. To embark upon this path of transversal communication requires not only generational empathy, but also an historic methodology of growth. In Europe’s present political situation, merely internal dialogue between the organisations (whether political, religious or cultural) to which one belongs, ends up being unproductive. Our times demand the ability to break out of the structures which 'contain' our identity and to encounter others, for the sake of making that identity more solid and fruitful in the fraternal exchange of transversality. A Europe which can only dialogue with limited groups stops halfway; it needs that youthful spirit which can rise to the challenge of transversality”.
“In the light of all this, I am gratified by the Council of Europe's desire to invest in intercultural dialogue, including its religious dimension, through the Exchanges on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. Here is a valuable opportunity for open, respectful and enriching exchange between persons and groups of different origins and ethnic, linguistic and religious traditions, in a spirit of understanding and mutual respect”.
“This way of thinking also casts light on the contribution which Christianity can offer to the cultural and social development of Europe today within the context of a correct relationship between religion and society. … European society as a whole cannot fail to benefit from a renewed interplay between these two sectors, whether to confront a form of religious fundamentalism which is above all inimical to God, or to remedy a reductive rationality which does no honour to man. There are in fact a number of pressing issues which I am convinced can lead to mutual enrichment, issues on which the Catholic Church – particularly through the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe (CCEE) – can cooperate with the Council of Europe and offer an essential contribution”.
“Similarly, the contemporary world offers a number of other challenges requiring careful study and a common commitment, beginning with the welcoming of migrants. … Then too, there is the grave problem of work. … It is my profound hope that the foundations will be laid for a new social and economic cooperation, free of ideological pressures, capable of confronting a globalised world while at the same time encouraging that sense of solidarity and mutual charity which has been a distinctive feature of Europe, thanks to the generous efforts of hundreds of men and women – some of whom the Catholic Church considers saints – who over the centuries have worked to develop the continent, both by entrepreneurial activity and by works of education, welfare, and human development. These works, above all, represent an important point of reference for the many poor people living in Europe. How many of them there are in our streets! They ask not only for the food they need for survival, which is the most elementary of rights, but also for a renewed appreciation of the value of their own life, which poverty obscures, and a rediscovery of the dignity conferred by work”.
“Finally, among the issues calling for our reflection and our cooperation is the defence of the environment, of this beloved planet earth. It is the greatest resource which God has given us and is at our disposal not to be disfigured, exploited, and degraded, but so that, in the enjoyment of its boundless beauty, we can live in this world with dignity”.
“Pope Paul VI called the Church an 'expert in humanity'. In this world, following the example of Christ and despite the sins of her sons and daughters, the Church seeks nothing other than to serve and to bear witness to the truth. This spirit alone guides us in supporting the progress of humanity. In this spirit, the Holy See intends to continue its cooperation with the Council of Europe, which today plays a fundamental role in shaping the mentality of future generations of Europeans. This calls for mutual engagement in a far-ranging reflection aimed at creating a sort of new agora, in which all civic and religious groups can enter into free exchange, while respecting the separation of sectors and the diversity of positions, an exchange inspired purely by the desire of truth and the advancement of the common good. For culture is always born of reciprocal encounter which seeks to stimulate the intellectual riches and creativity of those who take part in it; this is not only a good in itself, it is also something beautiful. My hope is that Europe, by rediscovering the legacy of its history and the depth of its roots, and by embracing its lively multipolarity and the phenomenon of a transversality in dialogue, will rediscover that youthfulness of spirit which has made this continent fruitful and great”.