Lux ex Oriente, luxus ex Occidente
‘John-Paul II’s vision of Europe’ – this was the theme of the conference held on 19 October in the context of the Polish Presidency of the European Union.
‘John-Paul II’s vision of Europe’ – this was the theme of the conference held on 19 October, hosted by Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski in the context of the Polish Presidency of the European Union. The two panel discussions focused on the spiritual and political dimensions of the Holy Father’s vision of Europe.
In his contribution, Profession Joseph Weiler, director of the New York University’s School of Law, emphasised that, whenever he proclaimed the inviolability of human rights, John-Paul II always restated that for every human right there is a corresponding human duty; hence it is only when these rights and duties go hand-in-hand that harmony in the life of society becomes possible. While speaking of the inalienability of Christianity as the basis of European identity, Prof Weiler drew attention to the fact that – as the Pope himself taught – the duty of preaching the Gospel goes together with the reminder that, while the Church may offer faith in Jesus Christ, she never imposes it. This is how the Church has also become the defender of religious freedom for those who belong to other religions, or who have no faith at all.
Conference participants also recalled the Holy Father’s wish, openly expressed in his speech to the European Parliament, that “Europe, with sovereign power, would equip herself with free institutions and may one day enlarge the dimensions given to her by geography and even more by history” hoping that it would also embrace its other “lung”, namely Christianity in the East. Today the European Orthodox Church still only has a small presence at the heart of the European Union. It seems that the Eastern Partnership, opening up to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia has met with greater success. Of course, we should not be forgetting Russia here. I believe that we are all dreaming of a Russia which one day will fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria.
The fall of Communism opened up to Central and Eastern European countries the prospect of becoming fully integrated into Europe’s political and economic institutions. This only happened when – as John-Paul II saw it – Europe had slumped into a crisis of civilisation. The Pope therefore saw the meeting of the two Europes – East and West – as a challenge for both sides inasfar as each side had something to offer and also something to lose. At that time a joke was making the rounds: Ex oriente lux. Ex occidente luxus. (From the East comes light, from the West comes luxury.) In one of his interviews the Pope observed, “I would go as far as to say that – as far as identity is concerned –it is Eastern Europe that has the most to lose, because, thanks to its experience of totalitarianism, Eastern Europe has acquired the greater maturity. Was that directly due to Communism? Better to say that the maturity grew during the process of self-defence and struggle against the totalitarianism of Karl Marx.”
Openness to the East and to the wealth of experience - often painful - of Eastern Europe, is not always easy. “The inclination to think and speak of Europe using only ‘Western’ dimensions is typical of people and bodies representing the western part of Europe, even though speaking for both of them.” The Eastern adventure is still out there, waiting for us.
Fr Piotr Mazurkiewicz
translated from the original French