ROME – Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg says both the Catholic Church and Europe will come out weaker in the aftermath of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
He also argues that Europe has become rich by exploiting Africa’s resources, and insisted that because of this, the West owes Africa a debt, and must come to their aid as the continent navigates its way through the effects of the coronavirus.
Speaking to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Hollerich said he believes that post-pandemic, “the number of people who go to church will go down.”
The cardinal also serves as the president of COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union.
In his estimation, the months-long bans on public worship, online Masses, indefinite church closures, the suspension of catechesis courses, and the limitations placed on access to other sacraments have all taken their toll.
Pointing to his own country, Hollerich predicts practicing Catholics “will be smaller in number, because all those who no longer came to Mass, because they came only for cultural reasons, these ‘cultural Catholics’ of the left and the right, will no longer come.”
“They have seen that life is very comfortable. They can live very well without having to come to church. Also First Communions, catechism for children, all this will go down in number, I am sure of it,” the cardinal said, but added that “it’s not a complaint on my part,” because the rapid growth of secularism meant things were already trending in this direction long before the pandemic.
“Perhaps it would have taken us ten years longer,” but the eventual result would have been the same, he said, insisting that as the Church faces the prospect of diminished numbers, Christians themselves must work to be better, “otherwise this culture of Christianity, this merely cultural Catholicism, cannot last over time.”
“I think that this is a great opportunity for the Church,” Hollerich said. “We must understand what is at stake, we must act and put into place new missionary structures.”
He also stressed the need for a renewed evangelization in Europe, first through actions and charity, and then through words. The Church, he said, must become “more Christian, truly simpler, even economically poorer. Because we have a consumerism in Europe that no longer allows us to live.”
“We are suffocating our life in Europe,” the cardinal said. “We need an evangelization that goes deep. We must change, we must hear the voice of Christ who calls us to a profound change.”
Hollerich also predicted that in the wake of COVID-19, “the West, the United States and Europe, will be weaker than before, because that acceleration phenomenon brought by the virus will make other countries, other economies grow.”
“We must see this with realism,” he said, urging fellow Europeans to “abandon the euro-centrism present in our thoughts” and learn to humbly “work with other countries for the future of humanity, to have greater justice.”
Hollerich said that one of his greatest disappointments in the coronavirus crisis was the initial reaction of the European Union, when member countries leapt into “nationalist reactions” at the start of the pandemic, acting “As if the European Union, as a solidarity, did not exist.”
In April, as European leaders were still arguing over a bailout plan to countries hard-hit by the coronavirus, Hollerich said he believed the pandemic could signal the end of the EU entirely.
“This really hurt me,” he said, but noted that the situation changed, and that what gives him hope now is that European leaders eventually came together to form a common response team, and “told themselves that in the presence of a new crisis, they will never do the same again.”
Turning specifically to the situation in Africa, Hollerich said the continent has been “hit hard,” not so much by the high number of coronavirus cases and deaths, but by the damage to its economy.
“People in Africa have become poorer. We need to take advantage of this crisis in order to make an act of solidarity,” he said, adding that “We in Europe are rich, and we are so because we have profited from the richness of Africa.”
This, he said, “is why it is simply just that as brothers and sisters we help this people to find a new economic balance, to be able to manage their lives without sending refugees to Europe.”
Christians all over the world have the responsibility to show solidarity without borders, he said, noting that now when Europeans now speak of the sick and dying, “they speak of themselves, because poverty also includes Europe.”
Hollerich, who has previously backed proposals such as a universal basic income and the debt cancellation for poor countries struggling as result of COVID-19, said that as Europeans, “we must do something for Africa as America did for Europe after the war.”
“Small assistance programs are not enough,” he said, and calling for a broad development plan to be created for Africa. However, carrying it out will be “more difficult than it was for Europe,” he said, “because after the war Europe recovered its democratic systems and we know that in Africa there are political systems that at times don’t allow the development of the African people.”
Noting that Europe is not the only foreign power present in Africa, Hollerich pointed to China, saying a joint plan must be made with the Chinese and with all people of goodwill for the development of African nations.
He also urged the various churches and religious confessions on the continent to do their part, adding that in addition to the Catholic Church, “it would be nice if those religious were to become the conscience of humanity, to call together for the development of these African peoples.”
“God loves the people of Africa and of Europe in the same way. God does not have a preference for Europe, this is clear,” he said, adding that believe this would be “an expression of latent eurocentrism, and this is not right, from the Christian perspective.”
In terms of Europe’s future, Hollerich said he believes the continent will overcome the coronavirus crisis as it has many other challenges in the past.
“There was a real danger, at the beginning of the pandemic, of not being able to maintain a new world order,” he said, “but now I see that Europe will do its tasks.”
Christian churches, he said, have a specific responsibility to work together with members of other religions to promote solidarity, “renouncing a bit of wealth for oneself in order to share it with others.”
As the Church engages in evangelization and the promotion of solidarity in a post-pandemic world, Hollerich stressed the importance of resisting the temptation to engage in politics or to impose one view rather than another.
“This is not our task. But to affirm that the European Union is important, yes,” he said, “because without the European Union, the poorest countries or those most impacted by the pandemic – like Italy, France and Spain – would be poorer still and without the European Union the rich countries, like those in the north, could not be masters of exports. We all need this European Union.”
Hollerich stressed that he is “not pro-European,” but is rather “for the common good,” and that “the common good is greater than Europe.”
“I think that there are many men, many women, although not all Christians, who have understood and because of this want greater solidarity,” he said. “So, we must call for greater solidarity, which is economically and politically possible.”
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