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Pope Francis: a different vision of Church role in European project [News Analysis]

March 23, 2023

At a March 23 audience with delegates for the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Pope Francis welcomed a new president of the group, paid tribute to the outgoing president, and urged COMECE to serve the cause of unity and peace in Europe.

The Pope congratulated Archbishop Mariano Crociata of Latina, Italy, on his election as the new president of COMECE, an organization that represents the episcopal conferences of nations belonging to the European Union. (A separate group, the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, or CCEE, includes all European countries.)

The Pontiff also saluted Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, who stepped down upon completion of his term as COMECE’s leader. Clearly referring to Cardinal Hollerich’s influential role as relator-general of the Synod on Synodality, and his travels to speak at preparatory meetings all around the world, the Pope said: “He never stops! He never stops!”

A different perspective than previous Popes

In his prepared remarks to the COMECE delegates, the Pope said that the group should focus on unity and peace. As he spoke of those two goals, Pope Francis set forth a vision of the European project markedly different from that of the previous two Pontiffs.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had argued forcefully that the European Union should recognize the indispensable role of Christian faith in forming the common European heritage. Pope Francis, on the other hand, said: “The wealth of Europe resides in the convergence of various sources of thought and historical experience.”

The Pope did briefly address the role of Christian faith in European unity, but suggested that role has now diminished, and left only a vague sort of involvement for the Church:

We wonder: what is the role of Christian inspiration in this challenge? There is no doubt that in the original phase it played a fundamental part, because it was in the hearts and minds of the men and women who initiated the undertaking. Today a lot has changed, certainly, but it is still true that it is the men and women who make the difference. Therefore, the first task of the Church in this field is that of forming people who read the signs of the times, who know how to interpret the project of Europe in today’s history.

Forming “people who read the signs of the times” does not necessarily entail an active profession of the faith. And in his discussion of how COMECE might advance the goal of unity, Pope Francis again avoided any distinctively Catholic or Christian message. “COMECE,” he said, “can and must also make its contribution in terms of values and professionalism to this challenge of peace.” He spoke of dialogue, of building bridges, of prophetic foresight, and architecture and craftsmanship. But he did not speak of Christian faith.

Philip F. Lawler


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  • Posted by: Gramps - Mar. 24, 2023 8:11 PM ET USA

    Peace is so elusive as a project. It would be Christian-Catholic to admit, clearly, that there can be no peace in this world. When one "approves" Islam, this assures that no "peace" is possible. When one "approves" all religions as "equal", no real peace is possible.....just continued conflict. The only true peace will be after the Second Coming. The continued search for peace in this world should be subservient to the the effort to evangelize non-Catholics. There is more to say.

  • Posted by: feedback - Mar. 24, 2023 11:17 AM ET USA

    Quote: "Pope said that the group (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU) should focus on unity and peace." This sounds like Francis is telling the Catholic Bishops not to challenge the moral decline.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 23, 2023 9:06 PM ET USA

    He comes across in his secular dealings as a man both in the world and of the world, his secular dealings being quite frequent.