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Scola warns against European decline as Church and society grow old and tired


The Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, says the Pope is thankfully doing something about this


“Europe is facing a decline; its civil society and Churches are tired and old. We have to radically rethink ourselves,” Milan’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Scola told Italian newspaper La Stampa in an interview ahead of the Oasis meeting on religious freedom, State secularism and Francis’ focus on the importance of poverty in the Church. The meeting took place in Milan and ended today.

Are the Turkey protests the latest chapter in the “Arab Spring”? 

“It’s a civil protest triggered by a number of factors, including an attempt to Islamise the country and growing authoritarianism. It is another warning sign which Europe needs to take very seriously.”

The West wanted to export democracy but now it finds itself helpless in the face of the massacre going on in Syria…

“The crucial thing is to listen: Bishops in the Middle East are against armed intervention and believe that we Westerners have not been correctly informed about the so-called “rebels”, many of whom belong to fundamentalist groups. Of course the serious differences dividing Shiite and Sunni Muslims in that entire area are clear for everyone to see.”

Why do the Christians in these countries often miss the old regimes?

“Because they had always been guaranteed freedom and protection under these authoritarian regimes. But this does not justify dictatorships and the atrocities they commit. But we Westerners must resist the temptation to just chat about this in sitting rooms over a cup of tea, thinking we can make judgements about situations we know largely nothing about. “Exporting democracy” is an unrealistic choice. What is needed is more time, patience and a different conception of relations between these people and Europe.”

Why is Europe standing by and watching when Western Christians have lost their voice?

“Europe’s civil society and our Churches are tired and old. And it’s understandable: we have the weight of centuries of complex situations and issues on our shoulders. We don’t like to admit it but Europe is facing a decline. What we need is a new synthesis. Providence has given us a big wake up call with the new Pope who is proposing we start over, going right back to our basic experience as human beings. Europe’s Churches need to find the courage to see this as a starting point.”

How do you view the relationship between secular society and religions? 

“As Christians we do not expect any special treatment. But this does not mean institutional powers should neutralise religions and cultures creating a sort of no man’s land. Positive neutrality needs to be shown when dealing with religions and cultures. Both are of a public nature and must be able to express this nature and to compare themselves with other visions of reality, in view of achieving mutual recognition.”

Some say Christians have their own ideas about family and others should be free to stick by their own beliefs.

“Of course” But if that means we Christians are deprived of the chance to have our say on such subjects, then that is very wrong. If I am convinced that a family based on marriage between a man and a woman and open to life is good for society and I don’t share this vision, then I deprive society of something. This is of primary importance and yet it is not understood. And attempts to neutralise certain principles that are essential to Christians, show a lack of understanding of the dynamism of a pluralistic society. In order for efficient lawmaking to take place, moderate but consistent comparisons are paramount.”

There is constant talk about the recognition of same-sex unions… 

“To guarantee individual rights to everyone is one thing. To attack the family either directly or indirectly is quite another.”

Don’t you think that in politics Christians have only focused on certain “non negotiable” values, neglecting others?

“Principles have an order of importance: Human vision comes first and then social life which derives from this. But even St. Thomas said goods are meant for everyone, so all of these goods, even private ones are on loan. If I am a just person, when I decide to buy something, I cannot ignore the problem of hunger in the world. Europeans need to rethink the complex topic of finance in relation to production. We have looked at the relationship between ethics and politics but not the relationship between economics and politics. We allow ourselves to be subjected to the whims of the market as if it were a natural necessity and not a cultural thing.

What are your impressions of the first three months of Francis’ pontificate?

“I am impressed by the strength of his testimony, by his lifestyle and by the way he is with people. I think this is a great gift. He also seems to be aware of the importance of decision-making and is able to take decisions.”

What about the Pope’s explosive speech to the Italian Episcopal Conference? Don’t you think it was underrated? 

“Francis represents a powerful provocation for all faithful and bishops are above all faithful. Providence has given us this wake up call. Each one of us is trying to follow the Pope in our own personal way. It’ll take some time…”

The Pope has spoken against the sickness of self-referentiality, inviting us to come out of ourselves…

“This is a serious problem. We really are too self-referential on all levels. Since last October we have been working on new pastoral project titled “Il campo è il mondo” (The field is the world) because we realise that the great vitality present in our communities often finds us self-occupied. We are busy with so many initiatives but we are not always able to be true witnesses. But going out does not mean creating neutral spaces, it means testifying that Jesus is the good news for today’s humanity, for the difficulty it has to love, for the hurt caused by relationships, for the demographic freeze we are faced with, for the inability to build justice and create work for young people and for the superficial reasoning seen in politics.”

What do you think of Francis’ call for a poor Church? 

“The reason our Churches are not poor is because of our complex history: just think of the importance attributed to bureaucracy in the Church’s various bodies. Poverty implies a balance between the means and an end. Church life needs to go back to basics, it needs to be sober and focused on proclaiming the Gospel, leaving aside all that is superfluous.”

What do you think of the Pope’s decision to appoint eight cardinal advisors? 

“Benedict XVI’s prophetic resignation was also a wake up call: One man alone cannot deal with a  task of such monumental importance. In the pre-Conclave discussions we decided – without wishing to undermine the Pope’s primacy – that it would be opportune for the new Pope to find new ways of leading the Church. The creation of this group is a positive thing and I think other moves could be taken in this direction.”

How do you perceive Christian-Muslim relations ten years on from the foundation of the “Oasis” foundation?

““Oasis” was founded because we realised there was a substantial mutual ignorance in terms of the two faiths. Ignorance causes fear to grow and hinders people from being able to interpret the processes that take place throughout history. We cannot stop these but we can try to influence their direction. The most rewarding experience was bringing a hundred or so Christian and Muslim figures together. They learnt to get to know one another, respect each other and reason together. We realised we had to create a common heritage without oversimplifying problems or cancelling out differences.”

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