Holy Father, when you take in refugees in the Vatican, you fill our hearts with new and fresh courage. You personify the idea that solidarity and compassion are not just fine-sounding words but values that require us, time and again, to take a stand and act.
This is why you have far more confidence in us, the heirs of the Enlightenment, than we have in ourselves – and rightly so. Europe is more than institutions, processes, criteria and percentages. It is more than an enhanced free trade area, more than a partnership of convenience – a partnership of convenience in which people are full-time Europeans one day because they receive everything, and part-time Europeans the next because they have to sacrifice something. Europe, for me, is a rallying of the best forces that Europeans have within them.
Europe is the student who, thanks to the Erasmus programme, can study, and sometimes even fall in love, in another country. I was recently told – and I do not know whether this is true – that a million people have got married thanks to the Erasmus programme. These, incidentally, are also marriages that last. Europe is the entrepreneur who can develop his talents anywhere in Europe. Europe is the worker who can, must and will continue to move freely on the European labour market.
People working together across borders like this binds us all the more closely one to another, and this creates a sense of belonging that transcends our continent, our treaties and our agreements. It is precisely this ability to cooperate and overcome division that you, Holy Father, see as our special European strength. And we take your words to heart, as we can be even better than we are; indeed, we can only get better.
Even as a child I learned that peace in our continent is precious. My father became a convinced European – in Russian captivity, at the front, right across Europe – he became a convinced European because non-Europe had forced him into a war. As his heir, I am willing to pass on his conviction and his experience.
Europe is the conscious choice of the opposite of what our parents' generation had to live through. Europe is a living commitment to human dignity, cooperation and social harmony. Sometimes, in our daily routine, we risk forgetting what an achievement this is – and that is why, Holy Father, I very much appreciate the way you speak to our consciences and remind us to shoulder our responsibilities and make the most of our huge potential —for social justice, for rapprochement between people and peoples, and for refugees, whom we should not fear. During times when we face so many challenges, from without and within, Europe’s shared strength is more important than ever.
Holy Father, you called on young people in Sarajevo ‘not to close their eyes to difficulties’, you wrote in the encyclical Laudato Si’ that a better future could not be built ‘without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded’, and you responded to the terrorist attacks in Brussels with a ‘gesture of brotherhood’ by washing the feet of migrants of different faiths. You reminded us on each occasion that Europe’s calling is still to secure peace for our continent and beyond. After all, the woes of the world are our concern too. A more stable world means a stronger Europe.
It never was, and never will be, an easy task. But withdrawing into our little comfort zones will not solve anything. Let us summon up once again the courage of our predecessors; the courage to face up to difficulties in order to overcome them and to shape history by being its architects, its builders and its craftsmen rather than be swept along by it. Fortune favours the brave. We owe it to our young Europeans.
I know how generous and determined they are. We must listen to and hear all those young people who have never lived through war but have witnessed and endured the destructive hatred of others. They must say 'no' to intolerance, to racism, to the rejection of others. They must say 'yes' to our way of life, our free, democratic, multi-ethnic societies, and to our democracies that are evolving in a Europe that needs to become more socially responsible. We are celebrating the 125th anniversary of Rerum novarum at this time. 'Yes' to a Europe of more solidarity and more respect towards the most vulnerable. The other continents, Holy Father, are watching us and very often do not understand our doubts, our hesitations, our worries. They do not understand why some people in Europe are calling into question the very foundations of European integration. The other continents do not understand the rise of stupid, pernicious forms of populism that are in danger of rending Europe asunder, a Europe that has been so patiently built step by step, conviction by conviction, over the past decades. Holy Father, you hold Europe and its unification most dear; that I know. Keep encouraging us to bring together our imaginations, our talents, our energies with renewed vigour to make Europe (once again) a model for others to follow. Perfecting European integration will, sadly, require patience and determination – the same patience and determination that any great ambition or long journey requires.
Holy Father, for my part, as an old European – old, but not obsolete, but rather resolutely modern and looking to the future – inspired by your words and your acts, I congratulate you, from the bottom of a heart filled with hope, for being awarded the 2016 Charlemagne Prize.