“Our problems can be solved only by restarting from new prospects. If not, we will remain prisoners of the past, bound to the demons of our past. And this is not what we want in Europe today.” With this gaze, directed to “new” horizons, Msgr Jean-Claude Hollerich, opened his first press conference in Brussels as newly elected President of COMECE, the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, together with 3 of 4 Vice-Presidents of the European body: Mons. Noël Treanor (Ireland), Mons. Mariano Crociata (Italy), Mons. Jan Vokal (Czech Republic). In fact– clarified Msgr. Hollerich – “the new presidency will work as a team.” In presenting himself to journalists, the Luxembourgian Archbishop recalled that he spent a large part of his life outside Europe, having lived 23 years in Japan. He said: “Living outside Europe has enabled me to see this land through different lenses. When you live afar you value what identities share and not what divides them. I hope to always continue preserving this gaze.” SIR interviewed him.
Europe needs new prospects to solve its problems. What prospects does it need? I think that above all, Europe needs political leaders that are concerned with people’s daily lives. However, there are differences between COUNTRIES and within the same COUNTRIES.
But there are also people who feel rejected (a phenomenon that is certainly due to globalization). These people see Europe not as a support but as a threat.
We absolutely need to acknowledge this feeling and change it. However, in order to do so, we need to show that everyone can reap benefits from the European Union, and we must encourage men and women engaged in political life to take the measures that people expect, which stem from a deep knowledge of the circumstances in which European peoples are living today. For example, we should think of how to create jobs for young people or how to bridge the gender pay gap. As bishops we have the advantage on being in contact with people, and thus our duty is to remind political leaders of the importance – the extreme importance – of addressing these problems.
If this fails to happen, we risk witnessing the growth of populist parties, gaining more and more public support. The root cause of the success of populist movements encompasses various factors. Clearly, European identities feel threatened. We are going through a delicate moment of cultural transformations. We are just at the beginning of a digital culture with various consequences, for example in the public domain. Only a few years ago traditional media outlets – namely, TV and the press – offered areas for debate and for the exchange of opinions, thereby playing a central role in democratic life.
Today, with the onset of digital culture, the public arena is thronged with “likes.”
This form of communication is no longer marked by the exchange of opinions but by the clash of extremist views: on the one side those in favour of someone or something, on the other those for whom the opposite is true. This has led to the disappearance of areas of debate that shipwrecked us to realms where sound interaction has been replaced by the quick exchange of messages.
This situation is coupled by the immigration crisis, that has made the fortune of populist parties. However, I think that this crisis is only a scapegoat. What emerges is a climate of widespread dissatisfaction and mistrust of the future. In this context people’s reactions to the inflows of migrants are motivated by fear. But we should be very careful: there are strong anti-immigrant sentiments even in places with few or no migrants.
It’s a generalised fear of the other, of otherness.
This fear must not be embraced, nor condemned or branded as superficial. We must be against no one. Instead, we need to highlight the precious contribution that immigrants can give to our societies. I come from a Country where 45% of the population have a foreign passport and where another 10% have dual nationality. Yet the Country is aware that this presence is critical to the preservation of a good standard of living. Thus, it is a question of seeing reality for what it is, identifying the causes underlying certain feelings, reaching out to people’s hearts and engaging in dialogue with them. Democracy is a space where political leaders and European citizenry come together and talk.
In the face of these problems and challenges, what is the role of the Churches in Europe? Indeed, we must talk in the plural, for failing to address these challenges together would constitute a seriously negative witness. If Christian Churches acted alone, in a disorganized, even opposing manner, they would be bearing a counter-witness. Thus the Churches must jointly engage in dialogue with everyone, with the political realm, with political parties, with the people we belong to. They must convey a meaningful horizon to the people. European peoples’ discontent is largely due to a feeling of disorientation. The Churches should bring out the positive side of Europe’s Christian culture and life. The past will never return. Thus, it’s not a matter of bringing about a restoration. The past shows that all attempts of restoration have failed. We are living in a constantly evolving historical context. But we must highlight the roots of Europe to enable Europe to move forward.
The problem is that European peoples don’t love Europe. That’s a shame.
Why? Because without Europe we would be poorer, we would be more isolated, the front of wars would be closer. Here in Europe we have grown used to living in a state of security. European history has never experienced such a long period of peace (apart from the situation in Ukraine) and we take this peace for granted. All those who don’t love Europe need to be made aware of the alternative. And the alternative would be worse that the worst European Union.
What is your message to European peoples on behalf of the bishops of the European Union? Don’t condemn Europe. Indeed, a lot needs to be improved. So let’s start doing it. But we must not imperil the European project. It’s a huge risk.