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Pope Francis urges political dialogue by Christians in Europe

By Allen Cone
Pope Francis visits a foundation at the San Calisto Palace in Rome on Thursday. On Saturday, he addressed the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community at the Vatican. Photo by Andrew Medichini/pool/EPA
Pope Francis visits a foundation at the San Calisto Palace in Rome on Thursday. On Saturday, he addressed the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community at the Vatican. Photo by Andrew Medichini/pool/EPA

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Pope Francis urged Christians in Europe on Saturday to promote political dialogue "especially where it is threatened and where conflict seems to prevail."

His address to 350 participants at the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community in the Vatican comes as some European countries face political turmoil.

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On Friday, the regional Parliament in Catalonia made a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain but the central government dissolved the Parliament. Also, Britain is negotiating its exit from the European Union.

During his speech, Francis noted noted the word "union" is in its name and it was formed after two world wars to guarantee peace on the continent. But he said "creativity" is needed to sustain the fragile peace.

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"The European Union will remain faithful to its commitment to peace only to the extent that it does not lose hope and can renew itself in order to respond to the needs and expectations of its citizens," the pope said.

The theme of the conference, attended by European Union politicians, Catholic cardinals and bishops, and other Christian organizations and movements, was: "(Re)Thinking Europe -- A Christian Contribution to the Future of the European Project."

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"It is significant that this meeting was intended above all as a dialogue, pursued in a spirit of openness and freedom, for the sake of mutual enrichment," the pope said.

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Francis said it is not the time to "dig trenches" but instead to promote "a united and harmonious Europe."

He said that Christians are called to follow Benedict, the patron saint of Europe and founder of Western monasticism

"He was not concerned to occupy spaces in a wayward and confused world," he said of St. Benedict. "Sustained by faith, Benedict looked ahead, and from a tiny cave in Subiaco he gave birth to an exciting and irresistible movement that changed the face of Europe."

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The fifth and sixth century saint is the author of the Rule of St. Benedict.

"Person and community are thus the foundations of the Europe that we, as Christians, want and can contribute to building," the pope said. "The bricks of this structure are dialogue, inclusion, solidarity, development and peace."

He said the "greatest contribution that Christians can make to today's Europe is to remind her that she is not a mass of statistics or institutions, but is made up of people.

"Sadly, we see how frequently issues get reduced to discussions about numbers. There are no citizens, only votes. There are no migrants, only quotas. There are no workers, only economic markers. There are no poor, only thresholds of poverty."

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Francis urged Europeans to discount those views.

"People have faces; they force us to assume a responsibility that is real, personal and effective," he said. "Statistics, however useful and important, are about arguments; they are soulless. They offer an alibi for not getting involved, because they never touch us in the flesh."

And he said "second contribution that Christians can make to the future of Europe, then, is to help recover the sense of belonging to a community."

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