Europe is suffering from “dramatic sterility,” the pope has said, urging Christians to preserve their moral values and “revitalize” a continent that is increasingly being characterised by a plurality of cultures and religions.
Pope Francis on Saturday decried low birth rates in Europe and urged more help for young people preparing their future path in society.
“A Europe that rediscovers itself as a community will surely be a source of development for herself and for the whole world,” the pope told the participants at the conference “(Re)Thinking Europe – A Christian contribution to the future of the European project”.
The conference, which took place in the Vatican City on 27-29 October, was organised by the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Holy See, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which, back in 1957, set off the European integration process.
Europe is suffering, the pontiff said, from “a period of dramatic sterility. Not only because Europe has fewer children, and all too many were denied the right to be born, but also because there has been a failure to pass on the material and cultural tools that young people need to face the future.”
To preserve European values, the Argentinean-born leader of the Catholic Church urged his followers to rediscover their traditional identity, starting with the family, which, he said, “remains the most fundamental place for this process of discovery.”
The pope noted that Christians must pass on the values of past generations to their offspring.
He said he found Europe to be “increasingly distinguished by a plurality of cultures and religions” but warned of the dangers of erecting “walls of indifference and fear” when it came to assimilating migrants who “are more a resource than a burden.”
For Pope Francis, “leaders together share responsibility for promoting a Europe that is an inclusive community,” as it looks to meet challenges including the “imbalances caused by a soulless globalisation.”
The pope said Christians can shape Europe’s future by promoting political dialogue “where it is threatened and where conflict seems to prevail.” Politics, he noted, “is becoming a forum for clashes between opposing forces. The voice of dialogue is replaced by shouted claims and demands.”
“Extremist and populist groups are finding fertile ground in many countries; they make protest the heart of their political message, without offering the alternative of a constructive political project,” the pontiff said.
“Leaders together share responsibility for promoting a Europe that is an inclusive community, free of one fundamental misunderstanding: namely that inclusion does not mean downplaying differences,” Francis added. In such a political environment, he called on Christians “to restore dignity to politics and to view politics as a lofty service to the common good, not a platform for power.”
Among the pope’s audience were European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and EU parliament chief Antonio Tajani. The conference, attended by hundreds of European leaders, was addressed by bishops, lay Catholic associations, politicians and some young people and experts from different countries.
Felix Dappah with agency reports