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December 2, 2022

Christian Europe

Pope Francis has just reminded us how hypocritical we all are. More or less. The Pope has once again talked about the refugee issue and about the temptation of each of us to blame the very victims of wars for their sad fate. Or God himself, who thus allegedly inflicts punishments for faults that only he knows. However, could this God be in fact merely our deforming projection, much closer to our specifically human pettiness? Because Christianity is not something that only the Pope is talking about, so does Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Donald Trump and Traian Basescu. The anti-refugees front includes Catholics such as the president of the ruling party in Poland, Protestants such as the Hungarian Premier, Orthodox such as the former Romanian Presidnet, and one of their main arguments is saving Christianity in the face of Islam’s assault. Two Christianities are confronting each other: the Christianity of the Pope and Chancellor Angela Merkel, still loyal to her openness toward refugees, and the Christianity of those who put up walls and see the priority of current politics as being the defence of a fortress besieged by foreigners who are inferior from a civilisational standpoint.

The migrants’ situation is certainly not simple. There is an old tendency to emigrate to a world that is richer, safer and more sympathetic with the poor. The West has been a magnet for many decades. Even several million Romanians went there after the fall of communism. Far from being a simple invasion, it is a necessity for a society increasingly ageing and with labour deficit. The immigration policy was, as was natural, selective, but the EU’s expansion eastward generated an unusual dynamic on the labour market. After all, the new “Europeans” are the first to feel threatened by the competition of those arriving from outside the continent. But the politicians of the anti-refugee front are not thinking about how many of their compatriots would lose their jobs because of the immigrants’ concentration solely in the countries of the old EU. They want to kill two birds with one stone. On one hand, they want to win followers in their own countries, sensitive to inter-ethnic tensions. The inheritance of the Habsburg Empire was a poisoned one: minorities who ended up on the territory of successor national states became a thorn for the new authorities, and the temptation of ethnic cleansing was high. And was sometime applied brutally and with tragic consequences for millions of people. This part of the continent did not experience a serious re-evaluation of the old nationalism, so that it lacks a true culture of democratic humanism. Minorities are seen here as a primer of future conflicts, not as a source of development. Their inability to integrate immigrants is also proof of chronic lack of political perspective. It is not by chance that old nationalisms are reborn, capable of coagulating a diffuse anti-European trend, lured by the myth of autarchy. However, the truth is that these states are living off the money of their richer Union colleagues. Hungary and Poland are large beneficiaries of European grants, and without them their right-wing governments would not survive for long. Their second goal is to provoke a general reaction in the EU, so that immigration policies would become much more rigid, and the funds should not be redistributed to the newcomers and should continue instead to end up in the coffers of Eastern European states.

But what does this unscrupulous pragmatism have to do with Christianity? On one hand, there is fear of an Islam that in time could challenge Europe’s current secularization. So that there is rather a rejection of the pressure of immigrants that are far too attached to a certain religious practice. In Europe, religion has become more discrete, and the refusal we are talking about also has to do with a pressure of secularization, which in the case of the newcomers is more difficult to apply, since Islam has so far not generated more stable forms of adaptation to the exigencies of secular society. In other words, such a concern does not in fact come preponderantly from the “Christian” camp, but from that of those who support the relativisation of the authority of religious values in the public space. In what concerns the actual Christian camp of various Churches, the situation differs on a case-by-case basis. For instance, Catholic leaders in Hungary support the government’s nationalist stance because they received benefits at legislative and institutional level. Although they are thus betraying the line encouraged by the current Pope. Fortunately, Catholicism is far bigger than the small courtyards of Orban or Kaczynski, and Christian solidarity is fortunately expressed in other, less petty countries.

Pope Francis will certainly remain in the history of the century at least for his courage to reaffirm the European Christian’s evangelical duty to be sympathetic with the downtrodden of the world. It is, in fact, Christian Europe’s chance to reaffirm its spiritual roots. Solidarity with the refugees is one of those “narrow paths” for getting out of the moral crisis desert that deeply gnaws at today’s Christianity.

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