Speaking with ZENIT in the lead-up to the Pope’s visit to Strasbourg today, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet said he expected the Holy Father would not “flatter the Europeans” but rather “reawaken consciences.”
The two speeches given by Pope Francis are in line with the archbishop’s expectations.
Here is a translation of excerpts of the interview.
ZENIT: How will Pope Francis’ visit unfold to the European institutions?
Archbishop Grallet: The Bishop of the place always receives the Bishop of Rome, it’s what I will do with joy, even if the Holy Father in stricto sensu will not visit the diocese of Strasbourg.[…] Everything will take place in three hours: the Pope will arrive at 9:50 am and he will leave at 1:50 pm. He will have lunch in the plane. Instead of bread, we will share his hope. It will be a stay of very great sobriety from the point of view of the Pope’s visibility in Alsace: no walkabout. However, this makes all the more valuable his desire to say a strong word to the European institutions and to Europe, and not to mix this message with other realities of pastoral life.
And the Vatican press office saw fit to announce the detail of the visit to the institutions at the same time that it announced officially a pastoral visit to France in 2015. However, all will not take place at the same time. I am very happy about the Pope’s coming and I rejoice over the good this visit will do.
ZENIT: Are the people of Strasbourg very disappointed [that it is not a visit to the city/nation]?
Archbishop Grallet: The announcement of the Pope’s coming aroused a gigantic craze that manifests his great popularity even in non-Christian environments. People thought that the Pope would also make a visit to the Cathedral whose millennial we are celebrating this year. People offered a hotel here, a restaurant here, requests for reservations were received. Then the Pope confirmed that he would only visit the European institutions, the Parliament and the Council of Europe, and that he reserved his pastoral visit for later. The people of Strasbourg feel honoured and comforted in Strasbourg’s role as the European capital. […]
ZENIT: What can be expected from the Pope’s visit?
Archbishop Grallet: If the Pope comes to Strasbourg, he does not come just to see functionaries: it’s clear that thiswill relaunch attention to the life of young Europe, which has only a few decades. This will do good to Europe, it will do good to Christians, I think it will also do good to all persons of good will who will hear the message.
I am not in on the secrets of his writings and we will allow ourselves to be surprised. I have no doubt that there will be a free and strong word, that he will draw his inspiration naturally from the Gospel and the social thought of the Church, and that he will not be embarrassed to denounce the sensitivities of the Western world. I remember what he was able to say at Lampedusa.
I also think that he has international experience: he has gone to Asia, to Korea; he has seen a very poor country such as Albania, he knows the dramas of the East and the terrible war; he comes from Latin America, he is not insensitive to what is lived in Africa. Hence, he has a global, planetary vision and I think he is going to situate the Europeans in the concert of nations, faced with the development of the whole planet.
It is certainly things like this that will nourish his word, without counting the great moral questions, the societal questions; it’s not impossible that he will speak about them. I don’t think he is going to flatter the Europeans. Rather, he is going to say to them: “Watch out! You have security, but it is not for you to withdraw into yourselves.” I think he is going to reawaken consciences on our responsibility in the concert of nations: I expect that. I hope that his words will be well understood. […]
ZENIT: Pope Francis’ visit is in harmony with your episcopal motto …
Archbishop Grallet: My episcopal motto, “duc in altum,” means, in fact: listen, go into the deep, do not withdraw, do not groan, do not curl up … go into the deep!
ZENIT: Does the Church in Alsace have a specific face given its place in Europe, but also its specific status in France?
Archbishop Grallet: The Holy Father appointed Monsignor Paolo Rudelli Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe, and a Nuncio has also been sent to the European Union, Monsignor Alain Lebeaupin.
One can say that we also have a European pastoral mission, with several priests on mission in the European institutions, notably to help the parliamentarians in their Christian life, to reflect on the great issues. In the diocese, we have much bilingualism; a majority of people know German, and the Alsace dialect is still very much practiced.
In regard to the Concordat (Napoleonic, ndr), it makes possible the life together of Protestants, Catholics and Jews: the three Concordat religions were thus prepared to work taking one another into account. And when there are questions to reflect on with Muslims, one is more prepared than before. And if there is a Council of Churches at the Christian level, there are also beneficial inter-religious meetings.
Another particularity: the University of Strasbourg, a State University, has a Faculty of Catholic Theology and a Faculty of Protestant Theology. I am Chancellor of the Faculty of Catholic Theology: I have a word to say and to connect this Faculty with the competent Roman authority, which is the Congregation for Catholic Education. However, the State takes its part of responsibility in remunerating the professors: we have particular means to “function” as Church. The Concordat assures us – we have suitable material means – but this also obliges us to be citizens in solidarity, to protect the common good and not withdraw into ourselves, but to remain in dialogue with people.
ZENIT: The specific, important diocesan event this year is the Cathedral’s 1,000thanniversary, but is it not also in some way a “European place”?
Archbishop Grallet: Yes, the Cathedral is a European place, there is a Mass every year with the Holy See Permanent Observer. However, what is less known is that the great stained glass window of the Cathedral’s choir was given by the Council of Europe in 1958: in some way, Europe finds itself in the heart of the Cathedral!
One expects a message of Pope Francis for the millennial of this Cathedral: the celebrations began on the day of the anniversary of its dedication, September 7, 2014, and they will end on Sunday, September 6, 2015. The diocese has 14 pastoral zones – for 1,850,000 inhabitants, of whom 1,350,000 are Catholics. The people of Strasbourg are very attached to the Cathedral: each pastoral zone comes to spend one day there, sometimes two, during the year. August 15 will be an intense time. For August 15 I have requested an envoy of the Pope, who will bring a word from the Pope.
ZENIT: Does the Pope’s visit make evident the special vocation of the Church in Alsace to witness reconciliation?
Archbishop Grallet: It’s true, Alsace more than other regions of France has suffered in its flesh and in the history of its members the conflict of nations and of two peoples — enemies not long ago. In 70 years, the people of Alsace have changed nationality five times: before 1870, they were French, in 1870 they became German, in 1918 they became French again. I think that even though their heart never hesitated, they were French, but at the same time they have a secret respect for the great German culture, the sense of organization, of that creative people. They measure the two very vast traditions that French culture and German culture represent: they carry the two in their spirit and in their heart.
Leclerc made the oath before his men in Africa, that he would not stop until the colors of France flew from the summit of the
Cathedral of Strasbourg. This was 70 years ago. On November 23 we celebrated the 70 years of the arrival of the 2ndDB of General Leclerc at Strasbourg and the fact that a soldier went all the way to the top of this immense and superb spire to hang the colors of France. Like other Europeans weary of war, the people of Alsace wanted reconciliation and they were, without a doubt, better informed and better prepared to work for Franco-German reconciliation. It is a joy to see people greet one another in Alsace: one witnesses a friendship between Frenchmen and Germans. It’s not for nothing the Strasbourg was chosen as the city of European institutions.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Pope’s Address to the European Parliament:
Pope’s Address to the Council of Europe: