ROME — Pope Francis issued a dire warning Wednesday, insisting that Europe is in a serious crisis due to its demographic winter and the loss of its Christian roots.
Reflecting on his recent visit to Budapest in his weekly general audience, the pontiff praised Hungary’s ability to keep its Christian roots alive while they are being forgotten and lost in much of Europe.
“I went as a pilgrim” to the Hungarian people and … saw “so many humble and hard-working people proudly cherish the bond with their roots,” he said. And among these roots, “there are first and foremost the saints” who today “exhort us to overcome the risk of defeatism and the fear of tomorrow, remembering that Christ is our future.”
Francis went on to note that “the solid Christian roots of the Hungarian people have been put to the test. Their faith was tested by fire.”
“Indeed, during the atheist persecution of the 20th century, Christians were struck down violently, with bishops, priests, religious, and lay people killed or deprived of their freedom,” he declared in reference to the Soviet occupation of Hungary. “And while attempts were made to cut down the tree of faith, the roots remained intact: there remained a hidden Church, but alive, strong, with the power of the Gospel.”
In Hungary, “this last persecution, this communist oppression was preceded by the Nazi oppression, with the tragic deportation of a large Jewish population,” he said. “But in that atrocious genocide, many distinguished themselves by their resistance and their ability to protect the victims.”
The pope went on to warn that in Europe, freedom is under threat from “a consumerism that anesthetizes” and makes people forget the past to float in a selfish present.
“This is the dangerous persecution of worldliness, brought about by consumerism. But when the only thing that counts is thinking about oneself and doing what one likes, the roots suffocate,” he asserted, underscoring Europe’s demographic crisis.
“This is a problem throughout Europe, where dedicating oneself to others, feeling a sense of community, feeling the beauty of dreaming together and creating large families are in crisis. The whole of Europe is in crisis,” he stated.
“So let us reflect on the importance of preserving the roots, because only by going deep will the branches grow upwards and bear fruit,” he said.
In his insistence on the importance of rediscovering Europe’s Christian roots, Pope Francis echoed similar concerns often expressed by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
In 2009, Benedict declared that by forgetting its Christian roots, Europe was exposing itself to the risk of seeing its “original dynamism stifled by individualism and utilitarianism.”
To be a place of peace and stability, Europe must not forget those values that are “the fruit of a long and silent history in which, all will agree, Christianity has played a key role,” he said.
“When the Church asks for the Christian roots of Europe to be recognized, it is not doing so to claim a privileged status for itself,” Benedict added. “Its aim is to keep the historical memory alive.”
Even more deeply, the Church wants to “reaffirm that Europe’s values are mainly rooted in its Christian heritage which even today does not cease to nurture them,” he said.