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continues all too often to be violated. This is the case in so many
parts of the world where conflicts of various sorts continue to fester.
It is also the case here in Europe, where tensions continue to exist.
How great a toll of suffering and death is still being exacted on this
continent, which yearns for peace yet so easily falls back into the
temptations of the past! That is why the efforts of the Council of
Europe to seek a political solution to current crises is so significant
Yet peace is put to the test by other forms of
conflict, such as religious and international terrorism, which displays
deep disdain for human life and indiscriminately reaps innocent
victims. This phenomenon is unfortunately bankrolled by a frequently
unchecked traffic in weapons. The Church is convinced that “the arms
race is one of the greatest curses on the human race and the harm it
inflicts on the poor is more than can be endured”. Peace is also
violated by trafficking in human beings, the new slavery of our age,
which turns persons into merchandise for trade and deprives its victims
of all dignity. Not infrequently we see how interconnected these
phenomena are. The Council of Europe, through its Committees and Expert
Groups, has an important and significant role to play in combating
these forms of inhumanity.
This being said, peace is not merely
the absence of war, conflicts and tensions. In the Christian vision,
peace is at once a gift of God and the fruit of free and reasonable
human acts aimed at pursuing the common good in truth and love. “This
rational and moral order is based on a conscientious decision by men
and women to seek harmony in their mutual relationships, with respect
for justice for everyone”.
How then do we pursue the ambitious goal of peace?
path chosen by the Council of Europe is above all that of promoting
human rights, together with the growth of democracy and the rule of
law. This is a particularly valuable undertaking, with significant
ethical and social implications, since the development of our societies
and their peaceful future coexistence depends on a correct
understanding of these terms and constant reflection on them. This
reflection is one of the great contributions which Europe has offered,
and continues to offer, to the entire world.
In your presence
today, then, I feel obliged to stress the importance of Europe’s
continuing responsibility to contribute to the cultural development of
humanity. I would like to do so by using an image drawn from a
twentieth-century Italian poet, Clemente Rebora. In one of his
poems, Rebora describes a poplar tree, its branches reaching up to
the sky, buffeted by the wind, while its trunk remains firmly planted
on deep roots sinking into the earth. In a certain sense, we can
consider Europe in the light of this image.
history, Europe has always reached for the heights, aiming at new and
ambitious goals, driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge,
development, progress, peace and unity. But the advance of thought,
culture, and scientific discovery is entirely due to the solidity of
the trunk and the depth of the roots which nourish it. Once those roots
are lost, the trunk slowly withers from within and the branches – once
flourishing and erect – bow to the earth and fall. This is perhaps
among the most baffling paradoxes for a narrowly scientific mentality:
in order to progress towards the future we need the past, we need
profound roots. We also need the courage not to flee from the present
and its challenges. We need memory, courage, a sound and humane utopian
Rebora notes, on the one hand, that “the trunk sinks its
roots where it is most true”. The roots are nourished by truth,
which is the sustenance, the vital lymph, of any society which would be
truly free, human and fraternal. On the other hand, truth appeals
to conscience, which cannot be reduced to a form of conditioning.
Conscience is capable of recognizing its own dignity and being open to
the absolute; it thus gives rise to fundamental decisions guided by the
pursuit of the good, for others and for one’s self; it is itself the
locus of responsible freedom.
It also needs to be kept
in mind that apart from the pursuit of truth, each individual becomes
the criterion for measuring himself and his own actions. The way is
thus opened to a subjectivistic assertion of rights, so that the
concept of human rights, which has an intrinsically universal import,
is replaced by an individualistic conception of rights. This leads to
an effective lack of concern for others and favours that globalization
of indifference born of selfishness, the result of a conception of man
incapable of embracing the truth and living an authentic social
This kind of individualism leads to human
impoverishment and cultural aridity, since it effectively cuts off the
nourishing roots on which the tree grows. Indifferent individualism
leads to the cult of opulence reflected in the throwaway culture all
around us. We have a surfeit of unnecessary things, but we no longer
have the capacity to build authentic human relationships marked by
truth and mutual respect. And so today we are presented with the image
of a Europe which is hurt, not only by its many past ordeals, but also
by present-day crises which it no longer seems capable of facing with
its former vitality and energy; a Europe which is a bit tired and
pessimistic, which feels besieged by events and winds of change coming
from other continents.
To Europe we can put the question: “Where
is your vigour? Where is that idealism which inspired and ennobled your
history? Where is your spirit of curiosity and enterprise? Where is
your thirst for truth, a thirst which hitherto you have passionately
shared with the world?
The future of the continent will depend
on the answer to these questions. Returning to Rebora’s image of the
tree, a trunk without roots can continue to have the appearance of
life, even as it grows hollow within and eventually dies. Europe should
reflect on whether its immense human, artistic, technical, social,
political, economic and religious patrimony is simply an artefact of
the past, or whether it is still capable of inspiring culture and
displaying its treasures to mankind as a whole. In providing an answer
to this question, the Council of Europe with its institutions has a
role of primary importance.
I think particularly of the role of
the European Court of Human Rights, which in some way represents the
conscience of Europe with regard to those rights. I express my hope
that this conscience will continue to mature, not through a simple
consensus between parties, but as the result of efforts to build on
those deep roots which are the bases on which the founders of
contemporary Europe determined to build.
These roots need to be
sought, found and maintained by a daily exercise of memory, for they
represent the genetic patrimony of Europe. At the same time there are
present challenges facing the continent. These summon us to continual
creativity in ensuring that the roots continue to bear fruit today and
in the realization of our vision for the future. Allow me to mention
only two aspects of this vision: the challenge of multipolarity and the
challenge of transversality.
The history of Europe might lead
us to think somewhat naïvely of the continent as bipolar, or at most
tripolar (as in the ancient conception of Rome-Byzantium-Moscow), and
thus to interpret the present and to look to the future on the basis of
this schema, which is a simplification born of pretentions to power.
this is not the case today, and we can legitimately speak of a
“multipolar” Europe. Its tensions – whether constructive or divisive –
are situated between multiple cultural, religious and political poles.
Europe today confronts the challenge of “globalizing”, but in a
creative way, this multipolarity. Nor are cultures necessarily
identified with individual countries: some countries have a variety of
cultures and some cultures are expressed in a variety of countries. The
same holds true for political, religious, and social aggregations.
globalizing multipolarity, and I wish to stress this creativity, calls
for striving to create a constructive harmony, one free of those
pretensions to power which, while appearing from a pragmatic standpoint
to make things easier, end up destroying the cultural and religious
distinctiveness of peoples.