The Pope is unkind to grandmothers, but he has lessons for us all

This post features excerpts from the recent speech by Pope Francis to the European Parliament on 25h November.  The speech is wide ranging, addressing many issues currently affecting Europe, including:

  • human rights versus responsibilities,
  • our treatment of the elderly, the young and the poor,
  • the disaffection with elites,
  • an excessive concern with the economy and consumption instead of genuine concern for human beings,
  • the importance of the family and education,
  • the need to ensure proper working conditions,
  • expansion of the EU to include the Balkan countries, and
  • the need for new immigration policies that tackle internal problems in source countries while protecting the rights of European citizens and promoting the acceptance of immigrants.

You can read the speech in full on the Catholic Herald website: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/11/25/pope-franciss-address-to-the-european-parliament-in-full/

As has become customary with Pope Francis, his comments to the European Parliament were strikingly original and punctuated with vivid images such as:

  • “Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard”,
  • “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery” and
  • “We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.”

There is very little mention of religion as such in the Pope’s speech, or at least religion as we have come to know it.  This is a measure of the new Pope’s achievement during the short period he has been in office.

The following are excerpts from the Pope’s speech:

Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.

Today, the promotion of human rights is central to the commitment of the European Union to advance the dignity of the person, both within the Union and in its relations with other countries…Promoting the dignity of the person means recognising that he or she possesses inalienable rights which no one may take away arbitrarily, much less for the sake of economic interests….At the same time, however, care must be taken not to fall into certain errors which can arise from a misunderstanding of the concept of human rights and from its misuse.  Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights…As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself….To speak of transcendent human dignity thus means appealing to human nature, to our innate capacity to distinguish good from evil, to that “compass” deep within our hearts, which God has impressed upon all creation.  Above all, it means regarding human beings not as absolutes, but as beings in relation.  In my view, one of the most common diseases in Europe today is the loneliness typical of those who have no connection with others.  This is especially true of the elderly, who are often abandoned to their fate, and also in the young who lack clear points of reference and opportunities for the future.  It is also seen in the many poor who dwell in our cities and in the disorientation of immigrants who came here seeking a better future.

In recent years, as the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engage in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.  In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.  As a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.

To our dismay we see technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings.  Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that – as is so tragically apparent – whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.

This is the great mistake made “when technology is allowed to take over”; the result is a confusion between ends and means.  It is the inevitable consequence of a “throwaway culture” and an uncontrolled consumerism.  Upholding the dignity of the person means instead acknowledging the value of human life, which is freely given us and hence cannot be an object of trade or commerce.

The family, united, fruitful and indissoluble, possesses the elements fundamental for fostering hope in the future.

It is intolerable that millions of people around the world are dying of hunger while tons of food are discarded each day from our tables.

The time has come to promote policies which create employment, but above all there is a need to restore dignity to labour by ensuring proper working conditions.  This implies, on the one hand, finding new ways of joining market flexibility with the need for stability and security on the part of workers; these are indispensable for their human development.  It also implies favouring a suitable social context geared not to the exploitation of persons, but to ensuring, precisely through labour, their ability to create a family and educate their children.

There needs to be a united response to the question of migration.  We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery….Europe will be able to confront the problems associated with immigration only if it is capable of clearly asserting its own cultural identity and enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of European citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants.  Only if it is capable of adopting fair, courageous and realistic policies which can assist the countries of origin in their own social and political development and in their efforts to resolve internal conflicts – the principal cause of this phenomenon – rather than adopting policies motivated by self-interest, which increase and feed such conflicts.  We need to take action against the causes and not only the effects….[It is] also necessary [to enter] into a positive dialogue with the States which have asked to become part of the Union in the future.  I am thinking especially of those in the Balkans, for which membership in the European Union could be a response to the desire for peace in a region which has suffered greatly from past conflicts.

The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values….Abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well.

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Categories: Economics, Religion, Welfare

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