Many signals and food for thought have been provided by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, in his very recent speech delivered at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.
Firstly, it should be noted that, this year, the Pope has sent the Secretary of State of the Holy See to represent the Vatican at the World Economic Forum, and not an eminent prelate – as in other Davos meetings – who was certainly authoritative and influential, but devoid of the political and institutional characteristics suited to represent the Pope officially.
If Europe “has lost its soul”, as stated by Cardinal Parolin in Davos – and this is obvious to everybody – we must go back to the spirit of the Founding Fathers of the European Community and later of the European Union.
This was the first issue raised by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, thus indicating that the Europe’s illness is political, economic, strategic and especially spiritual, precisely because it is global.
It is worth recalling that the Vatican Secretary of State does not currently speak of “Christian Europe” – which would have also been an obvious and reasonable argument for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Conversely Cardinal Parolin mentioned the spirit of the Founding Fathers, namely of the former Communist atheist, Altiero Spinelli, as well as of the Catholic Tridentine De Gasperi, or of Catholics such as Adenauer and Schuman.
In other words, the Church says to the “mighty and powerful of the world” gathered in Davos that the Word of Christ is one and one only and will lead to Salvation, but that the political horizon has its conceptual and practical autonomy which allows the union of Catholics, secular and reformed so as to rediscover the European soul.
This is also the meaning of Pope Francis’ words regarding Martin Luther and the Reformation.
A European Union not based on the recognition of a specific religion, but of a fact: the impossibility of reducing each person to his/her mere material dimension.
It is precisely the Catholic Church, represented by the Vatican Secretary of State, which is currently leading Europe’s transformation, as well as the reform of global economy and its now ineffective policy.
Hence no longer secret and occult Catholicism which must almost beg secularism’s pardon so as to continue to exist, but the fullest Glory of the Christian Testimony opening onto the whole world, thus becoming a reference point also for non-believers or for the followers of other faiths.
It is Truth that sets us free, as stated by the Evangelist John.
Hence it is by no mere coincidence that this happens during the Pontificate of a Pope coming from the Company of Jesus.
For Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the irrational – as well as irreligious – deviation, which is central in current times, is the reduction of religious life to an intimate, private and personal fact.
Religious faith is – and must be – the visible identity of believers and, most importantly, the leaven for all men.
It is the visibility of Faith which makes it alive and useful for all men.
This applies to all Faiths, vivified and defended by the current Catholic Church. The issue does not lie in pressing for “parochial” privileges, but rather in protecting every person, regardless of his/her spiritual story.
We must give once again a soul to Europe, as said by the Vatican Secretary of State, because the material culture, the fact of forgetting ideal and spiritual roots, as well as the cheap materialism characterizing the current ideology, are not the solution, but the sign of the illness, which is the same for everyone, not only for believers.
A poor material ideology of the economy, for the first time ruling this world, such as the Devil, without the life-giving and invigorating vision of the first European Community, as that of its founders was.
Today the EU is experiencing a regulatory and legalizing obsession which cannot work and worsens the crisis of the European soul – and this is the essence of its political and organizational crisis.
Again in the vision outlined by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church shows its soul in one way only – a way by which Pope John XXIII set great store, namely dialogue.
As reaffirmed by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church never asks or requests any privilege for itself.
Quite the reverse. According to supporting data and evidence, he has reminded us that currently Christians are the most persecuted in the world, without forgetting – even in prayers – the martyrs of other faiths.
When the Church speaks – and, from now on, it will increasingly speak in public and throughout the world – it does so to defend the Holy Spirit and to make it become the essence of public life and everybody’s feelings, but never claiming small or great privileges or some primacy over the other faiths.
Cardinal Parolin was very clear in that regard, both in Davos and on other occasions.
We are now witnessing the attempt – which will probably be successful – to make the Catholic Church become the worldwide reference point for all those who want to improve the current situation.
Paradoxically, Pope Francis has been defined by the New York Times as “the leader of the world Left”, but there is a mistake in this terminology.
Today, in fact, also thanks to Cardinal Parolin’s words in Davos, the Church is proposing itself not to unite all the various “Lefts”, but precisely all men, even those who do not believe in Peter’s Discipleship.
As recalled by Cardinal Parolin in his speech delivered at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016, also with reference to the burning topic of migration, the real issue certainly lies in curbing the production and sale of weapons, but also in understanding that the human problems are man-made, not God-made. Hence men, not God, can solve them through dialogue.
Even in this case, it is exactly materialism that misleads into error, while recognizing men’s universal spirituality and sacredness is the starting point to experience dialogue with the other faiths and with all men.
The message conveyed by Secretary of State Parolin in one of his 2013 homilies springs to our mind: “We can walk as far as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not follow Jesus Christ, it does not work”.
And precisely when the Church becomes all men’s voice, it fully remains the Bride of Christ and not “a mere charitable and welfare-oriented non-governmental organization” – just to use Cardinal Parolin’s words.
Certainly it is by no mere coincidence that these statements are made by a Cardinal who has already had a long and brilliant diplomatic career and is currently still at the top of the decision-making process.
As already noted, the first aspect underlined by the Secretary of State in Davos is that, with Pope Francis, the Holy See’s diplomatic activity has increased significantly both in quantitative and qualitative terms.
After the enlightening Pontificate of Benedict XVI, who outlined the cultural, geopolitical and especially spiritual lines of the Catholicism of Globalization, with Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin the Church is living the most dangerous, but exciting phase of its new global leadership and of a new geopolitical and strategic role, fully freed from the old and no longer existing shackles of the Cold War.
In the Catholic canton of Grisons Cardinal Parolin reminded us of the fact that Pope Francis is now universally recognized as a world leader – and this is a new fact, a Grace, for the Catholic Church.
As the Secretary of State recalled in Davos, the Vatican diplomacy has no worldly aims, such as power and hegemony, but it intends to reaffirm the spiritual nature of all men that – according to Saint Ignatius Loyola’s thinking – is a real fact and hence the foundation of dialogue between faiths and all men.
It is in this deeper and more spiritual sense that we can say that the aim of Vatican diplomacy is Peace.
Peace among all men, but also peace inside man and peace between faiths, that respect each other because – just to recall once again the themes dear to Cardinal Parolin – Catholics build in the world to follow Jesus Christ.
And fighting for peace among all men means eradicating all the man-made causes of wars and geopolitical crises.
“Building bridges, working for peace” is one of the three goals that Pope Francis has set for the Vatican diplomacy.
The first is to fight poverty, which is the source of all current evils and, above all, makes men lose their dignity and the perception of their spiritual nature.
Hence poverty in the material, but also in the spiritual sense: poor people always lose themselves and fall prey to political and economic evil, but even to the devil which, not surprisingly, is the “lord of this world”.
The second goal of Pope Francis’ diplomacy is to build bridges, as Cardinal Parolin said in Davos.
What does it mean? It simply means that what divides men was created by them, but what unites and allows to practice dialogue – as Pope John XXIII hoped for – always comes from God.
“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!” urges the Holy Father, recovering and following up the tradition of an extraordinary Pope such as John XXIII, whom I still remember with great emotion.
The third goal is to achieve peace in the world and I wish to recall that this is a political, but also a spiritual aim: Peace is the offspring of men’s reconquest of their souls and, hence, of the construction of reality when we give testimony to Jesus Christ, while respecting everybody.
Religious freedom, in particular, is one of the key points of the speech delivered by Cardinal Parolin in Davos.
Without religious freedom there is no freedom, because we do not recognize the spirituality of man, of all men.
When religious freedom is safeguarded, all the other “human rights” are automatically protected.
Nevertheless if we fight against the Church and all the other religions, we also destroy the long-standing secular tradition of the humanism of rights and the protection of each individual person.
We can add that, after all, it is completely contradictory to speak of “full freedom”, but not of religious freedom – as is the case with much contemporary culture – or even reaffirm traditional liberalism also and too often only in conflict with the rights of the Church and of the other Faiths.
Either freedom for everybody or no freedom at all – here logic, well before politics, defines and settles the issue.
And if we do not respect the person’s transcendent dimension – which is a fact – we cannot even protect his/her materiality, made up of choices and concrete rights.
As reiterated by the Vatican Secretary of State, the human being has always and anyway a transcendent dimension, which cannot be reduced to materiality. And the Church of Christ will always be in the forefront to defend the right of all men and faiths to speak freely.
As Cardinal Parolin stated, here the future of mankind will be defended.
And we can also add that in so doing we will preserve the prestige and the political and moral dignity of the Catholic Church itself, which speaks to everybody precisely because it follows Jesus Christ.
This is what we are currently witnessing in the long and complex negotiations between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China.
It is exactly one of Cardinal Parolin’s diplomatic masterpieces and it is very likely for current tensions to be overcome with an agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government which will enable the Holy See to choose a bishop among the 5-6 cardinals proposed directly by the Chinese political authorities.
This is the political and strategic sense of Peter’s Discipleship: as Jesus Christ has already ordered us, the civil power is Caesar, and it is free, autonomous and independent, because it does not regard Heaven, but Earth, which has its own laws that are also created by God, our Father.
And if it regards Heaven it is not a real power, as the Spirit of the Gospel does not regard Earth, does not make laws and does not create economic systems.
However it is exactly in the full and clear respect for “politicians’ autonomy and independence” that the current genuine aim of the Church as Bride of Christ lies and stands out, namely the supernatural nature of all men and, therefore, the absolute need for dialogue, as called for by Pope John XXIII.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France