To be effective and have solidarity for the future of Europe, we need to be practical; we must recognize that situations and what is best, differ from country to country, but that to move forward, we need to keep a certain harmony.
In an exclusive interview with Zenit on the ground in Poznan, Poland, at the Plenary Assembly of the Council of European Catholic Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, who also is Vice-President of the CCEE, expressed this thought.
In the interview, the English Cardinal spoke about the priorities of the assembly and acknowledged that sometimes issues do not have universal solutions. In addition, the Archbishop of Westminster also gives his reaction to the Pope’s just-announced Feb. 21-24, 2019, summit of the world’s bishops’ presidents in the Vatican to discuss protecting the young and vulnerable adults. He notes what he believes is needed for it be meaningful, as well as challenges inherent to the process.
Cardinal Nichols also discusses his work in combatting human trafficking, and how that could be considered in the upcoming Synod on Young People taking place in the Vatican in October. Discussing his expectations for that synod, he stresses why dialogue between generations is of utmost importance.
Here is Zenit’s exclusive interview:
ZENIT: Here at this plenary assembly, the presidents of the European Bishops’ Conferences are gathered to discuss solidarity and priorities. Why is it so important to work toward concretely addressing some of Europe’s challenges together?
Cardinal Nichols: I do not think anyone doubts the urgency of some of the problems facing Europe. As in every effort in life, we are best when we are together. And so, solidarity gives two things: solidarity with those most in need, that solidarity that says ‘this is my brother or sister’ and also solidarity means we are willing to work together to find solutions.
Solidarity does not mean there needs to be a single universal solution, but solutions need to have a certain harmony between them. If you take the starkest example, of the movement of desperate people across Europe, solutions for those on the edges or frontiers, if you will, are different than those in the heartland of Europe. But there needs to be some harmony between them. It is not that you can have a single European policy, but we do need a sense of solidarity where we are trying to act together for the benefit not of aliens, but of people who are brothers and sisters…
ZENIT: We recognize that as Christians we need to recognize the need to welcome our brothers and sisters, but …
Cardinal Nichols: That’s it exactly, that is one of the important sources of knowing we have a duty, but that spirit in itself, does not fashion policy, we need the reality, pragmatism, that shapes policy, a pragmatism that is shaped by solidarity.
ZENIT: Right, because different countries have different situations. Our instinct, as the Pope reminds, should be to welcome, but he has also acknowledged that to do this welcoming, it is necessary that those arriving be able to integrate properly and have necessary livable conditions. So, it is not black and white…
Cardinal Nichols: I think that if Europe has learned anything in the last ten years, it is to know how complex these issues are. These problems lie a long way from Europe and lie in poverty, in violence, in exploitation, and lie even, as Cardinal [Angelo] Bagnasco said, in the ‘telling of false truths, and false promises.’ And then ‘made and unkept promises.’ So, these are complex problems which require solutions on many levels. So, what we are trying to do this week is to see how the instinct solidarity of seeks to form mature consciences.
ZENIT: This week it was announced at the conclusion of this session of the Council of Cardinals, that the Pope has decided to convene a summit of the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences on protection of minors and vulnerable minors. Is this significant as a concrete gesture in the Pope’s commitment to address this abuse crisis, and what do you think is concretely necessary, as the measures it produces, to be effective and meaningful?
Cardinal Nichols: I would say there is no silver bullet and no one solution. This too is a very proper and painful unfolding of history. Probably the most important thing for bishops and for those who work with them on these issues is to listen to the voice of survivors and victims, and that is not easy. Sometimes, there is so much pain in the heart of a victim or a survivor that dialogue is difficult. At times, there is much defensiveness on the side of bishops, which makes dialogue even more challenging. I think it is very important that we do listen and listen well at the February meeting.
In my life, there has been a close connection between listening to the survivors of childhood abuse and listening to the survivors of human trafficking. What I have learned from the first experience of the victims of childhood abuse in the Church is often a sort of helplessness. It is hard for the Church to be an agent of help when it has been an agent of abuse.
I try to do whatever is possible to help another set of victims, for whom we are not the perpetrators, those of human trafficking. It started when I listened to an English woman who had been trafficked into prostitution in Italy, and that brought it home. So, I think listening to the victims is very important.
ZENIT: Thinking of the work of the Santa Marta Group [which Cardinal Nichols leads, which works to combat human trafficking] and your work to eradicate and eventually end human trafficking, is the trafficking of young people going to be among the topics touched on?
Cardinal Nichols: Well I know that in some of the schools in England, in London, they do presentations of what it is like to be a victim of human trafficking. They understand. They know the risk.
ZENIT: What are your personal expectations for the upcoming synod, and are there certain things that are most important for your young people?
Cardinal Nichols: Well, in the preparations for the Synod, in Westminster, we have had a small series of meetings in which I and other bishops met with young people. I think the conversation between us has been a very important thing. So often talk with young people or conversations within the Church are constructed as sharp debates, whereas these meetings are genuine dialogue. And I think dialogue between the generations is a very important and powerful thing.