Opening Address of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at ‘Catholic Social Days for Europe’ in Gdansk Poland

09 Oct 2009

The First Catholic Social Days for Europe

The concept and reality of solidarity for Europe

A reflection on the basis of the Social teaching of the Church

Speaking Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland

Gdansk, 9th October 2009

The name of this city of Gdansk evokes its own particular memories for each of us.   Ask any of my generation and they will inevitably think back to those epochal events of twenty years ago which are so emotionally synthesised in one single sentence of Pope John Paul’s Encyclical Centesimus Annus: “It cannot be forgotten that the fundamental crisis of systems claiming to express the rule and even the dictatorship of the working class began with the great upheavals which took place in Poland in the name of solidarity”  And Pope John Paul explains what this meant again in just one short sentence: “It was the throng of working people which foreswore the ideology which presumed to speak in their name”.

It is hard to underestimate the emotion felt by the people of my generation who looked on not just as the physical wall of Berlin caved in on itself, but seeing the deeper wall of ideological mistrust and fear and falsehood being torn down by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice.

Gdansk became for my generation not just a city on a map but a shrine, an icon, a model and an indication of the way in which our world could change and could be changed and must be changed.

If however you were to have asked my parents about the name of Gdansk they would have had different thoughts going back to the beginnings of the Second World War and of the fear and suffering and destruction which would continue for a significant period of their lives, both with the Second World War itself and with the ensuing ideological divisions which were to become established in Europe.

Gdansk like many other places was a focal point of the catastrophes which can occur when the principles of truth and justice are trampled on.  Gdansk is a focal point of the hope that comes when these principles triumph in the lives of individuals and of communities. Gdansk is therefore a name which strikes in hearts a warning note and a note of hope.

Shortly after the fall of the Wall of Berlin and of the ideological differences within Europe many felt that we had truly entered into a New International Order.  There was talk of the end of ideologies, or even the end of history. There was talk of the definitive victory of one economic system over another.  Twenty years on we see that there was a an ideology of the end of ideologies, however, the situation of our world today reminds us that without a foundation based on the truth, ideologies will continue to replace one another, without the desired fruits of progress and harmony and global development talking place.

Pope Benedict reminds us that the “types of messianism which give promises but create illusions always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development.”

History is not fate.  History is shaped by the activity or the inactivity of human beings. Solidarity is about people.  I have today another personal memory, as an Irishman coming to Gdansk.  I think of two men linked to my own country who lived and worked here in the mid to late 1930’s.  One was the Bishop of Gdansk, Count Edward O’Rourke.  As most of you will realise O’Rourke is not a Polish name.  It is linked with the County of Leitrim in Ireland.  Bishop O’Rourke himself was born in Minsk in today’s Belarus of Irish noble stock which fled persecution centuries earlier. He was ordained a Priest for the diocese of Vilnius.  He was for a short time to be Apostolic Administrator of Minsk and most of the newly established Soviet Union.  He was Bishop of Riga and then Bishop of Gdansk until with the intensification of the Nazi threat was transferred to Rome where he died.  His remains have since been returned here to the Cathedral.

The other name is that of Sean Lester, a Northern Ireland protestant, who was an Irish Diplomat, Commissioner of the League of Nations for the Free City of Danzig and later, the last Secretary General of the League of Nations and the one who handed over the mandate of the League of Nations to the emerging United Nations in 1945.  They were both here at the same time, recognising in each other some of the few free voices able to express their criticism of the emerging Nazi domination.

I mention those names not out of a sense of narrow nationalist pride, but to remind all of us that these two men represent the best of Europeans, of men and women who have worked concretely in their spiritual and political mission to create a different Europe, a Europe of many peoples and cultures, a Europe in which the principles of truth and justice could be translated into the concrete values which will ensure tolerance and respect and overcome the narrowness of ideologies.   They are icons in their own way of what it should mean to be a European today. Interestingly both of them passed their latter years in obscurity without the recognition that they deserved.

Our Social Days have as their aim the encouragement of a new generation of young Europeans to be inspired by such a vision.  The icons of the formation of modern Europe need not be just the well-known names of Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer, but of many smaller names, often totally forgotten and unjustly unrecognised,  who through their lives have been inspired by noble ideals and have witnessed to the truth. Those who emerged on the world scene here in Gdansk 20 years ago were young and unknown and we need now a new generation of Europeans on that world scene.

I’m saying something about my age when I recall an Italian song that was made popular in the early 1970’s with the unusual title “La libertà è partecipazione”, Freedom is participation.   I would say about Europe today that solidarity is participation.  Solidarity is not about what we can receive from Europe but how we contribute to Europe.  As you will know, in Ireland we have just had an overwhelming vote in support of the Lisbon Treaty, with a two thirds majority in favour, contrasting with the first vote.   What is important today is that people do not think that now we have cast our vote that we can sit back and leave the rest to others.

Solidarity is participation; responsibility is taking part.  There is an obligation of all those who are committed to a future vision for Europe that they take part actively, and in such a way that the values they consider vital are fostered.  There is no point in blaming a European Union for attempting to impose alien values to one’s culture if one is not active within the European community in fostering those values and in building up a consensus around the significance and importance of those values.   Protocols and Declarations are important, but the commitment and participation of citizens is essential.   The biggest challenge to our values comes from resignation indifference, apathy or simply giving in on our part.

There is a real need for a New International Order, a new Europe for a new future.  Solidarity springs from the heart and not just from texts.  Pope Benedict XVI in all three of his Encyclicals has stressed the reform of structures on their own will not answer the challenges of development and the future of humankind.  “Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction”

In Caritas in Veritate the Pope recalls the temptation to put all our trust in technology.  “Changes in today’s world will not come alone from technical solutions and structural reform”.  He is strong on challenging a new ideology of the technical.  He notes that ideologies could be replaced by “technology”.  He notes that there is not enough attention being paid in our world to what he calls the “why” questions, but only to the “how” questions.

The Pope does not wish to underplay the role of technology.  Rather he notes that “the key to development is a mind capable of thinking in technological terms and of grasping the fully human meaning of human activity”.

In his earlier Encyclical Spe Salvi Pope Benedict had reflected on the nature of progress. We have to ask ourselves with the Pope: “what does “progress” really mean; what does it promise and what does it not promise?”  In answering that question the Pope reminds us of what he calls “the ambiguity of progress”.  “Without doubt, [progress] offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and have indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.” The contribution of Christian believers to the future of Europe will be one of focussing on the foundations of ethics and truth.

There are some who would seem to imply that the Christian, in a secular society, must only act in the public sphere as what I would call a ‘9 to 5’ atheist: a Christian in private life, an atheist in the work place.   In Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict strongly rejects such a concept.  “There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul…  The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know it and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When he is far away from God, man is unsettled and ill at ease”

Let me quote again from the Encyclical:  “When the State promotes, teaches, or actually imposes forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development and it impedes them from moving forward with renewed dynamism as they strive to offer a more generous human response to divine love.”

The Social teaching of the Church is not a cold doctrine or ideology.  It requires conversion on our part.  It is applied not through structural reform alone, but through the formation of men and women who live out its principles, especially the dominant principle of Christian love, which requires that we give not just things and technology but of ourselves.  The social teaching of the Church is an instrument which draws out the teachings of Jesus Christ social consequences formulated in such a way as to give that teaching citizenship also in a secular world.

Without a teaching based on truth then people will live lives which drift farther and farther from the truth.  But solidarity can only spring from a true understanding of the nature of the human person and on ”a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side.”
The Pope comes back to the centrality of Christian love, which has been the focal point of his three Encyclicals.  “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love”.
The theme of God’s love has been a focal point of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI.   In Caritas in Veritate, the Pope takes up the relationship between charity and truth in the context of the social and economic realities of our world.  We can look at this reflection as a stimulus to understand the future pattern of Europe.

Some might ask, should justice rather than charity not be at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine? In the Christian vocabulary the word charity is not about hand-outs or vague benevolence.  Christian charity is about gratuitousness, a giving not just of things and ideas but of self, without any of the price tags or packaged portions typical of consumer society.  Christian charity places us before the astonishing experience of gift which often goes unrecognized because of a purely consumerist and utilitarian view of life.

What have charity and gratuitousness to say to the realities and mechanisms of economic life?  What has a Papal Encyclical, which is primarily a religious document, to say about the mechanics of economic and social development?    It does not as such present fixed recipes for development.  It draws inspiration from an understanding of a God who is love and who shares his life with us. Solidarity is not an abstract feeling, it is about sharing. Sharing is also the basis of the European Union, both in its inspiration and its activities, however, one has to be careful to see that mechanisms directed at sharing can over time, become the lobbying of a few.
If the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Interdependence must become solidarity especially in our current world order and especially with the challenges of globalization which the Pope describes as “the explosion of world wide interdependence”.

My hope is that this conference will be a springboard, and the challenge to us all to respond to the call of Christian charity to give ourselves to ensure a new form of solidarity and participation in shaping the Europe of the future.

Perhaps unknown to many the name of this city, Gdansk, will enter to into another new dimension of its history shaping the face of a new Europe of solidarity.


See gallery of images from the event …