Upon his arrival in Lisbon, on Wednesday, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for Europe to revive the ideals of its founders and seek to build bridges of peace, fraternity and inclusion with “creativity” in a world incapable of dealing with widespread problems “in a united way”.
“I dream of a Europe, the heart of the West, which employs its immense talents to settling conflicts and lighting lamps of hope; a Europe capable of recovering its youthful heart, looking to the greatness of the whole and beyond its immediate needs; a Europe inclusive of peoples and persons, without chasing after ideologies and forms of ideological colonization”, he said as he addressed Authorities, Civil Society and the Diplomatic Corps at the Centro Cultural de Belém of Lisbon.
Pope Francis began the first public speech of his Apostolic Journey taking his cue from the image of the ocean, which is “in the heart of every Portuguese person”.
Noting that “the ocean does not merely link peoples and countries, but lands and continents,” he remarked that Lisbon, as an ocean city, “reminds us of the importance of the whole, to think of borders as places of contact, not as boundaries that separate.”
It can therefore suggest “a different path” from that followed in our divided world “incapable” of confronting together “what threatens us all”, including ”planetary injustice, wars, climate and migration crises”.
The Pope then noted that, significantly, the Portuguese capital hosted the signing of the Treaty for the reform of the European Union (the Treaty of Lisbon) in 2007, committing the EU to actively contribute to peace, security, sustainable development solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights.
Those were not empty words, he said, “but milestones” along the path of the European Community which reflect the same “spirit of the whole, inspired by the European dream of a multilateralism broader than merely that of the West.”
Pope Francis therefore expressed his hope that the World Youth Day in the “most westerly capital of continental Europe” may be, for the “Old Continent”, an “impulse towards universal openness”, for the world, he said, “needs Europe’s role as a bridge and peacemaker in its eastern part, in the Mediterranean, in Africa and in the Middle East.”
However, in his dense discourse, the Pope questioned the direction Europe – and, more generally, the West – has taken to effectively bring peace to the world, starting from war-torn Ukraine.
He mentioned specifically its increased investments in sophisticated weapons, which represent “a depletion of its authentic human capital: that of education, health, the welfare state.” “It is troubling,” the Pope remarked, “when we read that in many places funds continue to be invested in arms rather than in the future of the young.”
“With deep love for Europe, and in the spirit of dialogue that distinguishes this continent, we might ask her: ‘Where are you sailing, if you are not showing the world paths of peace, creative ways for bringing an end to the war in Ukraine and to the many other conflicts causing so much bloodshed?’”
Pope Francis further lamented the developed world’s “creeping utilitarianism that uses life and discards it”: that of unborn children, older persons, migrants and that of so many families “that find it hard to bring children into the world and raise them.”
“Where are you sailing, Europe and the West, with the discarding of the elderly, walls of barbed wire, massive numbers of deaths at sea and empty cradles? Where are you sailing if, before life’s ills, you offer hasty but mistaken remedies: like easy access to death, a convenient answer that seems ‘sweet’ but is in fact more bitter than the waters of the sea?”
In the face of these setbacks, the Pope remarked that the thousands of young people pouring into Lisbon from the five continents to share the Gospel of unity, peace and fraternity, offer a reason for hope.
“Young people from around the world, who long for unity, peace and fraternity, urge us to make their good dreams come true. They are taking to the streets, not to cry out in anger but to share the hope of the Gospel.”
World Youth Day therefore represents an opportunity “to build together”, said the Pope, as it “revives our desire to accomplish something new and different” and “to set sail together towards the future.”
Pope Francis went on to suggest three “construction sites of hope”.
The first is the protection of creation, our common home facing the threats of climate change and of shameless pollution also affecting the oceans.
“How can we claim to believe in young people, if we do not give them healthy spaces in which to build the future?” he asked.
The second construction site for hope he cited was the future.
“Young people are the future,” he said, yet they suffer lack of jobs, the dizzying pace of contemporary life, hikes in the cost of living, the difficulty of finding housing and of creating a family.
In Europe and in the West generally, all this has resulted in a “troubling” demographic decline which can only be contrasted by foresighted policies “correcting the imbalances of a market economy that produces wealth but fails to distribute it, depriving people of resources and security.”
Pope Francis once again called for intergenerational solidarity that forge bonds between young and old, citing the saudade, which in Portuguese culture signifies a nostalgia that is born of contact with our roots.
“Political life is challenged to see itself as a generator of life and concern for others. It is called to show foresight by investing in the future, in families and in children, and by promoting intergenerational covenants that do not cancel the past but forge bonds between young and old.”
In this regard, Pope Francis further highlighted the crucial importance of an education that “does not simply impart technical knowledge directed to economic growth”, but “aims to make the young part of a history, to value our religious dimension and needs, and to favour social friendship.”
Finally, the third construction site for hope Pope Francis cited was that of fraternity, which Christians learn about from Christ. In a globalized world “that brings us closer but fails to create fraternal closeness,” he said, “all of us are challenged to cultivate a sense of community”, a sense of closeness and solidarity which can be still be found in many parts of Portugal.
He cited the Missão País (Country Missio), a project promoted by Portuguese Catholic University students who share experiences of missionary solidarity in the peripheries also reaching out to elderly people living alone.
While thanking them for their work and encouraging all those in Portuguese society who show concern for others, Pope Francis concluded by calling on the authorities present “to give hope” to Portugal and the world.
From the Cultural Centre of Belém, Lisbon, Portugal, Meeting of Pope Francis with the Authorities, Members of Civil Society and the Diplomatic Corps.