Archbishop Paul Gallagher's Address to European Bishops' Legal Advisors

«At the center of the Pope’s considerations in Strasbourg was his affirmation of the dignity of the human person.»

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Below is the Vatican-provided address of Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States, yesterday during the meeting of the legal advisors of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe, organised by the Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (CECE) in Bratislava, regarding the Holy Father’s two discourses in Strasbourg:


Europa, the beauty whose name was given to our continent, came from Asia. There is historical truth reflected in this mythical belief of the Ancient Greeks, since the cradle of European culture lies, in fact, in Asia. The story goes that the maiden Europa was the daughter of Agenor, king of a major Phoenician coastal city. Now Agenor jealously guarded his daughter, making sure that no one would kidnap the beautiful young woman. And so, Zeus, the father of the gods who had fallen in love with Europa, had to proceed with stealth and cunning. He transformed himself into a tame white bull, which mixed in with Agenor’s herd of cattle grazing near the Mediterranean seashore. Europa and her friends soon noticed the friendly bull that smelled of flowers, so gentle, in fact, that all the girls came over to stroke him. Europa caressed its flanks, eventually climbing onto the bull’s back. At once Zeus seized the opportunity to kidnap her. Still in the form of a bull he ran with the girl on his back down to the water, disappearing from sight, then flew over the sea to Crete, that is, to Europe!

Today, the bull as a mythical animal seldom reminds us of Europa’s abduction. Rather, in the modern world of finance it has become the symbol of economic wealth. We have only to see the two bronze animals in front of the New York Stock Exchange: the bear presses stock prices down with its paw – a sign of economic recession – while the bull pushes upwards with its horns, promising rich profits. These images went through my mind as I was preparing this address on Pope Francis’ speeches to the European Parliament and to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 25 November last. Even today the maiden Europa can still be seduced and kidnapped by the bull, because – and here lies one of the Pope’s central concerns – money seems to have become more important than people, particularly those who are poor and vulnerable. It is indeed human dignity that stands at the core of both European institutions which the Pope visited, since they profess to defend the fundamental rights of all and to promote social cohesion.

Rather than speaking in Brussels only to members of the European Parliament, the Holy Father decided, significantly, to speak in Strasbourg, enabling him to address the Council of Europe where all European nations are represented, including Russia and the Ukraine, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan – to give just two examples of areas outside the European Union (but within Europe) where there are ongoing, grave conflicts. Pope Francis wanted to make it clear that our continent is bigger than the European Union. As he has done often in the past, his aim was to draw attention to the «peripheries» in order to engage actively States and peoples even at the geographic edge of our continent.

One might say that Strasbourg is Europe’s true capital, which has become, after a tumultuous history, a true symbol of French-German reconciliation. Surely, it is a sign of hope for all of us that this rediscovered friendship connects all European nations. Pope Francis has expressly pointed to this: «The dream of the founders was to rebuild Europe in a spirit of mutual service which today too, in a world more prone to make demands than to serve, must be the cornerstone of the Council of Europe’s mission of peace, freedom and human dignity.»1

At the center of the Pope’s considerations in Strasbourg was his affirmation of the dignity of the human person. The focus of Catholic social teaching is the acknowledgment of the value of every individual, whose protection precedes all positive laws which should aim to achieve precisely this. Human rights must be respected everywhere not because politicians confess the «preciousness, the uniqueness and unrepeatability of every single person», but rather because they are engraved in the heart of every human person. It is upon this that positive laws in each State must uphold the inalienable rights of individuals. They must be fixed in the positive laws of every state, be protected by those in authority, and respected by all. «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» (µ@), 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.»2

Christian thought which has substantially formed the history and culture of Europe has always promoted the dignity of the individual and the common good of all. Against this background the Pope reminds us of the Christian roots of our continent, in order to bring the fruits that are reasonably expected by valuing the person. Christianity is not only our past, but also our «present and our future», because today it is about the centrality of the person. Today, the dignity of the human person is at risk; Europe can greatly benefit from the light of Christian morals. The Holy Father exhorts the Members of the European Parliament as «the time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values. In building a Europe which courageously embraces its past and confidently looks to its future in order to fully experience the hope of its present. The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well.»3

The words of Pope Francis are courageous and echo Saint John Paul’s II admonition in Ecclesia in Europa4 that the continent which separates itself from its Christian roots will fall into a «silent apostasy». Where economic interests are directed only to profit and the market, then the bull of Europe – to use the image from the outset – becomes the golden calf, an idol of false values and aspirations.

According to the Pope we need to rebuild «a Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for, defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity!» It might seem paradoxical but the more those with responsibility in politics, economy, culture and welfare, turn towards men and women on the peripheries of our society, the more they will place the dignity of the individual at the center of their activities, thus promoting the common good of all. The more they look to the heavens, that is, to high ideals, without letting market values dominate their work, greater the unity will be between representatives and decision makers and greater too, the ability to solve the problems that threaten our societies. Looking to the periphery and to the heavens does not deviate from the essential; on the contrary, this orders our actions in the right way, so that they can truly protect human rights. Christianity teaches looking at both – to the edges and upwards to the heavens.

From this perspective the Pope is s
peaking about the concrete problems and challenges of Europe, and in particular the worrying conditions of migrants who seek the protection of their lives and families on our continent: «We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery! The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance. The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions. Europe will be able to confront the problems associated with immigration only if it is capable of clearly asserting its own cultural identity» I would like to add that this European culture is profoundly a Christian one «and enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of European citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants»5.

It is not the Church’s duty to pursue concrete, day-to-day politics and to ascribe to herself competences which she does not have. We do not know the concrete measures that might be necessary, for example, to assure security and freedom to all migrants searching our help. Rather it is a matter of inviting politicians, sometimes also admonishing them, to look up and to look further than short-term solutions. As Pope Benedict XVI articulated during his visit to London in 2010: «Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance»6. In view of the growing forces, which seek to exile Christianity to the private domain, removing it from public discourse, it is significant that after the Pope’s speech in Strasbourg – and maybe even thanks to it – the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted a resolution countering discrimination against Christians in Europe.

The Pope «from the end of the world» showed his love and his concern for our continent before the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. The young maiden Europa has grown into an older woman who no longer has the impetus of youth, yet is still beautiful and charming. In the coming years and decades it will be important for Europe that its nations and peoples will continue the process of unity free of the constraints of false egalitarianism and excessive bureaucracy, in order to ensure a lasting peace. There can never again be war in Europe! This high aim is to be achieved, however, only if trust and brotherliness – true unity – grow and are consolidated in the acceptance of cultural differences. Christianity has to perform her mission in Europe in this regard, and the Catholic Church, especially, in which the unity of cultural differences is found, can offer tangible help to unite and strengthen the national family of Europe. This is our particular charism as we assist the Holy See and the local churches by our skills and expertise, enlightened by faith, we may promote a Europe founded on the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.


1 FRANCIS, Address of Pope Francis to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, 25 November 2014.

2 FRANCIS, Address of Pope Francis to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, 25th November 2014.

3 FRANCIS, Address of Pope Francis to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, 25th November 2014.

4 JOHN PAUL II, Ecclesia in EuropaPost Synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Bishops, men and women in the consecrated life and all the lay faithful on Jesus Christ alive in his Church the source of Hope for Europe, n° 9.

5 FRANCIS, Address of Pope Francis to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, 25 November 2014.

6 BENEDICT XVI, Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI, Meeting with the representatives of British society, including the diplomatic corps, politicians, academics and business leaders, Westminster Hall – City of WestminsterFriday, 17 September 2010.

[00368-02.01] [Original text: English]
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation