Refugees from Ukraine are seen as they arrive at the Polish-Slovakian border crossing in Kroscienko, Poland Refugees from Ukraine are seen as they arrive at the Polish-Slovakian border crossing in Kroscienko, Poland 

Pope: May the walls of Europe become gateways

Pope Francis writes to the Archbishop of Vilnius and President of the CCEE to mark the opening of the European Catholic Social Days, and highlights the importance of protecting, accompanying and integrating as European countries accept so many vulnerable people fleeing war.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis welcomed the opening of the European Catholic Social Days - being held in Bratislava, Slovakia, from 17 to 20 March - with a letter to Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Presidedent of the Council of the Conference of European Bishops, (in latin Consilium Conferentiarum Episcoporum Europae, CCEE).

The Pope noted that to mark the third event of its kind, which is organised by the CCEE together with the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) and the Slovakian Bishops' Conference "I would like to address my cordial greetings to you, dear Brother, and to all the participants".

The tragedy of war

Pope Francis immediately turned his attention to "the tragedy of the war taking place in the heart of Europe", noting that it is not what we had hoped for after the difficult health emergency caused by the pandemic. Now, he continued, we are left "astonished", as we are reminded of scenes from the great wars of the last century, scenes that "we never thought we would see again".

As a community of believers, the Pope noted that "the heart-rending cry for help from our Ukrainian brothers and sisters urges us not only to reflect seriously, but to weep with them and to do something for them".

Once again humanity is threatened by a perverse abuse of power and vested interests, which condemns defenseless people to suffer all forms of brutal violence. 

The Pope then thanked the country's bishops for their prompt response "in coming to the aid of that population, guaranteeing it material aid, shelter and hospitality". 

The title

Pope Francis then turned his attention to the title chosen for the days being celebrated: Europe beyond the pandemic: a new beginning. He noted that it invites us to reflect on the transitioning taking place in European society. This time, still affected by the pandemic, has brought about significant social, economic, cultural and even ecclesial changes. "In this situation marked by suffering", noted the Pope, "fears have grown, poverty has increased and loneliness has multiplied; while many have lost their jobs and are living precariously, the way of relating to others has changed for everyone". 

We cannot stand idly by, stressed the Pope. As Christians and as European citizens, we are called to courageously implement "the common good of our European homelands, of our homeland Europe". Yes, he continued, Europe and the nations that make it up are not opposed to each other, and building the future does not mean unifying, but uniting even more in respect for diversity". 

The logo

Finally, Pope Francis turned to the logo that has been chosen for these days: that of St Martin of Tours cutting his cloak in two to give it to a poor man. "It reminds us that love is concrete proximity, sharing, care for others", said the Pope adding that "those who love overcome fear and mistrust towards those who come to our borders in search of a better life: if welcoming, protecting, accompanying and integrating so many brothers and sisters fleeing from conflict, famine and poverty is right and human, it is even more Christian".

Finally, the Pope noted that the walls which are still present in Europe, "should be transformed into gateways to its heritage of history, faith, art and culture; dialogue and social friendship should be promoted, so that human coexistence based on fraternity may grow".

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18 March 2022, 10:00