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Europe’s spiritual hunger



Archbishop details the Church’s role in the European Project

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States for the Holy See, presented the Nanovic Institute’s annual Keeley Vatican Lecture on October 2. His presentation, entitled “The Catholic Church in the European Project,” sought to propose Catholic solutions to the problems that plague Europe and prevent its political unification in the European Project.

Archbishop Gallagher detailed Europe’s difficulties, calling the migration and economic crises its two greatest concerns today. The archbishop highlighted Europe’s inattention to its spiritual roots, saying, “There is a loss of Europe’s Christian memory heritage accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference.”

He explained that challenges such as migration cannot be addressed without a “clear political vision,” and asked, “How can we have this vision without a cultural perspective that allows us to face the full array of related problems?”

Archbishop Gallagher argued that Europe’s inadequate cultural perspective stems from an understanding of the human person that is detached from all social contexts and obligations. He explained that it is because of this perception that “there is a tendency to claim ever-broader individual rights.” He related that these rights sometimes even go so far as to be called “individualistic rights,” meaning that they are no longer true human rights, but instead simply enable the selfish seeking of one’s own comfort. For example, abortion and assisted suicide would fall within this category.

“This process of the relativization of human rights is intimately connected to the progressive exclusion of the religious sphere from social life,” Archbishop Gallagher maintained, “which in turn is the result of an unhealthy secularism that juxtaposes Caesar to God rather than allowing them to interact positively.”

He continued, saying, “It is no real surprise, then, that there are efforts to create a vision of Europe which ignores its religious character, and in particular, its profound Christian soul, and asserts the rights of the peoples who make up Europe without grafting those rights onto the trunk which is enlivened by the sap of Christianity.”

The outcome of Europe’s failure to realize its Christian roots is an “existential fragmentation,” Archbishop Gallagher explained, which is “marked by loneliness and individualism.” He especially criticized the lack of a culture of the family, which he said results from confusion about life and human relationships.

Archbishop Gallagher condemned the rejection of migrants and the rise of populism as harmful to the European Project and blamed fear for some populations’ rejection of migrants. He also blamed the emergence of populism on a widespread desire, based on emotion and detached from reason, to feel connected to government.

Explaining that there must be a “comprehensive response” to all of these issues, Archbishop Gallagher argued that “we should not forget that the fundamental solution is not so much to propose solutions to concrete problems, but to be to the world what the soul is to the body—to be a moral voice, to revive its memory, and to indicate the ideal horizon of life.”

Archbishop Gallagher maintained that “a Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that humanistic spirit which it still loves and defends.” Thus, he explained that the main task for the Church in Europe today is “to place the human person at the center, to reaffirm his indissoluble bond with God.”

Another essential role Archbishop Gallagher sees for the Church in Europe is the promotion of interpersonal relationships and the community. The continent’s “future must be restarted on the interpersonal level,” he continued, “in that interwoven network of human relationships, which the Church, as expert in humanity, has announced over the centuries.”

Archbishop Gallagher then explained how the Church can be a witness of faith, hope, and charity in Europe. Faith can be witnessed by proclaiming the transcendent dignity of the human person. Hope can be witnessed by promoting a vision of the family that is life-giving and inclusive. Charity can be witnessed by following Jesus’ words “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

The archbishop called for a more concerted effort of charity to welcome migrants and integrate them into the European social fabric. He called for law to be “firmly anchored in the objective nature that unites all of humanity.”

According to Archbishop Gallagher, “Christians are called to point out that adherence to the European Project is not only a technical question, nor a process of annexation or political succession, but it is above all a process of participation in the ideals of peace and development upon which the integration of the continent rests.”

Ellie Gardey is a sophomore political science and philosophy major living in Lewis Hall. In another life she would be a professional ballet dancer. Contact Ellie at egardey@nd.edu.

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