THE HOLY FATHER JOHN PAUL II
Apostolic Pilgrimage to France
(October 8 - 11, 1988)
Visit to the European Parliament in the Council of Europe in Strasburg (October 11, 1988)
[French, Italian, Spanish]
Address by His Holiness Pope JOHN-PAUL II, in formal sitting (Strasbourg, 11/10/1988)
Google translated from French
11. Other continents are now experiencing a more or less deep symbiosis between the Christian faith and culture, which is full of promise. But for nearly two millennia, Europe offers an important example of cultural fertility of Christianity which, by its nature, can not be relegated to the private sphere. Christianity, in fact, is intended public profession and active presence in all areas of life. So is it my duty to point out emphatically that if the religious and Christian substratum of this continent had come to be marginalized in his inspiration for ethics and effectiveness in its social, it is not only all the heritage of European past that would be denied, but it is still a future worthy of the European man - and I mean any European man, believer or unbeliever - will be adversely affected.
12. Finally, I will mention three areas where I think the integrated Europe of the future, open to the east of the continent, generous to the other hemisphere, should resume a leading role in world civilization:
- First, to reconcile man with creation, taking care to preserve the integrity of nature, flora and fauna, air and rivers, its subtle balances, limited resources, who praises her beauty glory the Creator.
- Then reconcile man to his neighbor, in accepting each other among Europeans of various cultural traditions or schools of thought, being welcoming foreign and refugee, opening the spiritual riches of the people other continents.
- Finally, reconcile man to himself, yes, working to rebuild an integrated and comprehensive vision of man and the world, against cultures of suspicion and dehumanization, a vision where science, technical capacity and art are not mutually exclusive but call faith in God.
Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, in response to your invitation to speak to your illustrious Assembly, I had before my eyes the millions of men and women in Europe that you represent. It is to you that they have entrusted the great task of maintaining and developing human values - cultural and spiritual - that correspond to the legacy of Europe and that will be the best safeguard its identity, liberty and its progress. I pray God to inspire you and strengthen you in this great design.
Mr President and Vice Presidents,
Members of the European Parliament,
All associated with the work of this Institution,
I thank you for inviting me to address this institution which is fundamental to the life of the European Union, and for giving me this opportunity to speak, through you, to the more than five-hundred million citizens whom you represent in the twenty-eight Member States. I am especially grateful to you, Mr President, for your warm words of welcome in the name of the entire assembly.
My visit comes more than a quarter of a century after that of Pope John Paul II. Since then, much has changed throughout Europe and the world as a whole. The opposing blocs which then divided the continent in two no longer exist, and gradually the hope is being realized that “Europe, endowed with sovereign and free institutions, will one day reach the full dimensions that geography, and even more, history have given it”.
As the European Union has expanded, the world itself has become more complex and ever changing; increasingly interconnected and global, it has, as a consequence, become less and less “Eurocentric”. 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.
In addressing you today, I would like, as a pastor, to offer a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe.
It is a message of hope, based on the confidence that our problems can become powerful forces for unity in working to overcome all those fears which Europe – together with the entire world – is presently experiencing. It is a message of hope in the Lord, who turns evil into good and death into life.
It is a message of encouragement to return to the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent. At the heart of this ambitious political project was confidence in man, not so much as a citizen or an economic agent, but in man, in men and women as persons endowed with transcendent dignity.
I feel bound to stress the close bond between these two words: “dignity” and “transcendent”.
“Dignity” was a pivotal concept in the process of rebuilding which followed the Second World War. Our recent past has been marked by the concern to protect human dignity, in contrast to the manifold instances of violence and discrimination which, even in Europe, took place in the course of the centuries. Recognition of the importance of human rights came about as the result of a lengthy process, entailing much suffering and sacrifice, which helped shape an awareness of the unique worth of each individual human person. This awareness was grounded not only in historical events, but above all in European thought, characterized as it is by an enriching encounter whose “distant springs are many, coming from Greece and Rome, from Celtic, Germanic and Slavic sources, and from Christianity which profoundly shaped them”, thus forging the very concept of the “person”.
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. This is an important and praiseworthy commitment, since there are still too many situations in which human beings are treated as objects whose conception, configuration and utility can be programmed, and who can then be discarded when no longer useful, due to weakness, illness or old age.
In the end, what kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing one’s thought or professing one’s religious faith? What dignity can there be without a clear juridical framework which limits the rule of force and enables the rule of law to prevail over the power of tyranny? What dignity can men and women ever enjoy if they are subjected to all types of discrimination? What dignity can a person ever hope to find when he or she lacks food and the bare essentials for survival and, worse yet, when they lack the work which confers dignity?
Promoting the dignity of the person means recognizing 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 – I am tempted to say individualistic; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a “monad” (μονάς), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding “monads”. The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of 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.
I believe, therefore, that it is vital to develop a culture of human rights which wisely links the individual, or better, the personal aspect, to that of the common good, of the “all of us” made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society. In fact, unless the rights of each individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless and consequently will become a source of conflicts and violence.
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.