Tharif Khalidi, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, has collected stories of Jesus in his book The Muslim Jesus: Saying and Stories in Islamic Literature.
I will start by telling you one of them:
A man joined Jesus, saying ‘I want to be your companion‘. They started their journey and, when they arrived at the bank of a river, they sat down to eat. They had three pieces of bread. They ate two and left one. Jesus went to the river to drink some water. When he came back and did not find the third piece of bread, he asked the man: ‘Who has taken the bread?’ The man answered: ‘I do not know.’ They continued their journey and on their way, Jesus performed two miracles. He spoke to his companion and asked twice, ‘In the name of the One who has shown you this miracle, I ask you: who took the bread’? ‘I do not know’ answered the man once again. Then they arrived at the desert and sat on the sand. Jesus made a heap of earth and sand and told him, ‘With God’s permission, turn into gold and so it happened. Then Jesus divided the gold into 3 parts and said ‘A third for you, a third for me and a third for the person who took the piece of bread.’ Here the companion said ‘I took the bread’ Jesus said ‘The gold is all yours.
Jesus continued his journey by himself. In the meantime two thieves arrived who wanted to steal the gold from Jesus’s old companion. The latter, however, said ‘We divide it into three and one of us goes to the city to buy food’. One of them went to the city and thought ‘Why should I divide the gold with those two? I will rather poison the food and keep the gold for me’. He bought food, which he poisoned.
On his return, the ones who had stayed behind said ‘Why should we give him a third of our gold? Instead, we will kill him when he comes back and divide the gold between we two’. When the third came back, they killed him. Afterwards, they ate the food and also died. The gold remained in the desert, next to the three dead men. Jesus passed by and when he saw such a misery, he told to his disciples, ’So is the world. Beware’.
With the European Union’s enlargement to ten more countries on May 1st, we should not only talk about the Union’s growth to 450 million male and female citizens. The date mentioned underlined the end of the continent’s division and represents the reinforcement of democracy and economical power. It is a successful history without precedent.
This is how an article about Europe’s historical times, published in an international magazine began.
I will not talk about ”democracy” here, firstly because this is not the most appropriate occasion and secondly because this is a topic that would take us too far and I could carried away…
What remains is the economical power, which, in effect, is the key of all political life, of our lives, of our well-being, of the aim of the most part of our work and of our student’s effort – everything revolves around economical power. Even we, here at the Council, without having a certain economical power are not able to do anything or just a little.
Returning to Europe: for countries with a low economical power, the admission to the European Union is a source of inexhaustible wealth. So it was for my country, Portugal. When in 1986 we joined the European Community, together with Spain, it was said, ‘This is finally it, we are in Europe…’ We are in Europe, as if before we had not been! Well, this was just an aside remark.
And, in fact, it was a good opportunity for many businessmen and women: good franchising and representations had to be grabbed! To be deputy in Brussels or in Strasbourg was a must. ,. we were Europeans!
Portugal has, undoubtedly, benefited substantially from its admission and has undergone great developments in terms of modernization: highways and new roads, bridges, airports and railway stations, important political and cultural international events – the music festival :Rock in Rio: will take place for the first time in Europe, and it will be in Lisbon, precisely during this week; several magnificent stadiums were built for the European Football Cup which will start next week also in Portugal, etc. We even gave Bush support for the War in Iraq!!
However, if some became richer, others impoverished. And who are the latter? Those who already were the poorest and those who ran into debts because of ambitious enterprises.
The fact is that the source was, after all, exhaustible!
The crazy power of money associated with the madness of our times, the madness of technical developments and the madness of some mad, makes us rethink the ethical-moral principles, the human rights and the concept of dignity, the concept of’being human’, of being female and of being male. We are far from intervening because we are far from thinking and feeling according to ‘one for all and all for one.’
In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace in 1984, Pope John Paul II mentioned that:
Christian faith has a word for this fundamental change of heart: it is’conversion’. Speaking generally, it is a matter of rediscovering clear-sightedness and impartiality with freedom of spirit, the sense of justice with respect for the rights of man, the sense of equity with global solidarity between the rich and the poor, mutual trust and fraternal love.
This conversation on solidarity can also be found in the nr.38 of the Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis:
A commitment to the good of one’s neighbour with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’; for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to ’serve him’ instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage.
Production became nomad, it moves according to lower salaries, to a better exploitation of the labour force. And I say nomad because it remains in a determined country until it finds another way of exploiting and leaving behind unemployed and desperate people. Which ethics govern this circulation?
We are now living in this situation in Portugal where textiles, shoe manufacture and other industries close down in order to go to Romania and Poland. However, the day will soon arrive when these same factories will close their factories there, in order to exploit other people in Africa or Asia because in Romania and Poland the salaries will have increased and once again people will be left behind in a tight spot.
Roger Garaudy writes:
Today, our societies evolve according to relations of competitiveness and strength, which cause domination and dependency. The only criterion is the performance that leads to a successful search for money and that ensures survival or confers power. In addition, religions seem to enter the future backwards: looking at the past. They identify faith with the cultural or institutional character it was able to assume in this or in that previous historical period.
In a pluralistic Europe, the ethical codes and worldviews are also pluralistic. In addition to living our daily routine according to values that remain theoretical and abstract, we should pay attention to the world, to the other and be conscientious of the values and counter-values surrounding us and in which we are also involved. It is necessary that we develop a true interpretation of the events, aiming always at the conversion to solidarity.
The crisis of the western world’s leading power has spread. Already in 1989, Paul Volcker, the former head of Americas Federal Reserve said:
Whether it will be possible or not to preserve America’s image as well as its supremacy in the world will depend mostly on the possibility to re-establish a high sense of ethics, professionalism and demand in practical life.
I refrain from any comment about America’s course of action on the international political scene during the last years.
However, that same crisis has affected Europe, where we are also suffering a deep moral crisis: we perceive attempts at destroying traditions, attempts of a deep sense of existence, of absolute ethical norms; we perceive the lack of new ideals with its resulting psychic disturbances. Nowadays, people no longer know which deep basis supports their minor or major daily decisions, which preferences they should follow and which priorities or role models they should choose because the old guiding principles are no longer valid.
We are going through a crisis in values, which at a microcosmic level, causes frustration and fear, toxic dependency, alcoholism, youth and adult delinquency, suicides, etc. At a macrocosmic level, we see all kinds of political, social, economical, moral scandals, intolerance, radicalism and fundamentalism.
In short, we find ourselves before a void of sense, of values, of norms not only on a personal, but also at a communitarian and institutional level. A metanoia, that is, a change of mind or, as already mentioned, a conversion, is therefore indispensable.
The faith in progress, in a progressive society has lost its credibility. The economical progress as an absolute end has shown to imply inhuman consequences. Progress, the all-mighty, gave the order, ‘you have always to do better and more, faster and faster’. If we join this tendency to another current tendency, that of ‘anything goes’, in other words, ‘the moral of the anything is valid’; we can imagine the consequent results
Freedom, pluralism, tolerance are modern values that have to be appreciated and which we must educate by talking about them and facing them in practical situations, whether these are near or far in geographical and personal terms.
This was the project of a European Union, started by Schuman, Mannet and Adenauer, and whose main aim was to create a political project. This project was founded on the values of peace, of the rule of law, on human rights and internal and external solidarity.
The European Union’s potential is as high as its resulting temptations. The multiplicity of cultures, ethnic groups, languages, costumes, traditions and beliefs should be valued; this is the great challenge of unity in diversity, of the respect for the difference. And, in this area, the younger generations have a deeper sensitivity and a more practical sense of living and consequently, a greater responsibility in the education of the less tolerant. The older must help the younger guide those values and must be open to talk without being tempted, a priori, to create stereotypes and stigmatize the younger. It is neither obvious nor easy to accept people with different views of life. Neither acceptance nor integration should stop being good – because in fact they are – in order to become a brutal or castrating assimilation.
The Human Rights Declaration preserves many factors, but more work should be done in an ontology of people, which should show clearly the individual’s distinctive character as a social being. It is a good thing that today there is already the consciousness that the culture of different people should be preserved and their rights have to be conveniently protected.
We cannot conceive an abstract united culture of humanity, but through the openness of each of them to the others, we can stimulate and support dynamic politics of the different historical cultures, in order to recognize in each the common essential human character.
The following text is taken from a document of the United Nations Conference, during the meeting in Vienna on the 25th June 1993:
All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis. While the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
This union of states at the European level must be an act of faith, according to which each citizen recognizes a human being in each human being. I repeat, in each human being:
* In the great businessman with his luxurious cars, in the old man, with lowered head, sitting by himself on the park bench with his trembling hand in the pocket tinkling the few coins that remain from the monthly pension and that must last two more days;
* In the young executive officer in an Italian suit and leather briefcase in the hand and in what remains of a nice good looking boy he was a few years ago, a student like many othes, who lacked the strength not to be tempted by the false tricks of toxic dependency;
* In that lady with a Louis Vuitton hanging from her shoulder who thinks she is able to trick time by spending what she has got and what she has not got in aestheticians? and plastic surgery and in that woman who had no luck in life – as it is usually said – who works from dawn to dusk, doing the cleaning in several houses in order to keep up her children and the vices of her unemployed husband.
We, the western European countries, the true old European, as many people still believe – must look at the people from the East and recognize a woman in every woman and a man in every man, without thinking ’ poor people, they are the poor relatives, some more to share our cake with…’ not to mention the stigma of the communist regime. A way individual and common conversion must be found.
There must be a change in discourse, from both sides. Not only should the West abandon the solidarity declarations full of compassion and indulgence towards the Eastern countries, but also the latter have to change their discourse, which is a result of their defensive cultural background, and have to be open to a fraternal dialogue, a clear share.
The multiplicity of new experiences and new challenges we are going through in Europe and which question Man’s true humanity is too rich, too wide and too responsible to be isolated.
The old divided Europe, where war followed war, the fights for the strongest, for what is now yours but tomorrow will be mine;
The old Europe of paradoxes where „Liberty, Equality and Fraternity“ were proclaimed, but where the Inquisition and the Holocaust were a reality;
The old Europe, several years divided by a Wall, to which many who believed in freedom and democracy fell victim;
That old Europe from where the Christian faith ambassadors set off, carrying swords to fight the faithless;
But also that old Europe from where the sailors in vessels set off in search of new lands, new people, new horizons…
Nowadays, Europeans have also set off in search of new horizons in the union of opposites. We were too weak by ourselves, too weak even in the temptation of dominating the weakest. We found a defence shield in the alliance, a defence against each other.
The greatness of this European Union will be also shown in the way in which we relate to other people and other continents. We shall not become a bourgeois Europe, isolated, navel-gazing.
In 1990, Hans K(ng started his reflection about a world ethics with some facts known to us all, but which are worth recalling:
Every minute, the world’s nations spend 1,8 million dollars on military armaments; every hour, 1500 children die through hunger or hunger related causes; every day, an animal of plant species is made extinct; every week, during the 1980s, more people were detained, tortured, murdered, turned into refugees, or in some way violated by acts carried out by oppressive regimes than in any other time in History, except the II World War; every month, the global economic system adds 75 thousand millions dollars to the catastrophically unbearable debt burden of 1,5 billion dollars weighing on the Third World countries; every year, a forest area the size of three-quarters of Korea is destroyed and lost forever; every decade, if global warming continues to grow, the temperature of the atmosphere will dramatically increase (between 1,5 and 4,5 degrees centigrade) and with it the level of the oceans with disastrous consequences especially in coastal areas.
Written more than 35 years ago, during the II Vatican Council, the nr.30 of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes is profoundly prophetic and clear:
Profound and rapid changes make it more necessary that no one (…) content himself with a merely individualistic morality (…) For the more unified the world becomes, the more plainly do the offices of men extend beyond particular groups and spread by degrees to the whole world. But this development cannot occur unless individual men and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; this, with the needed help of divine grace men who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming.
Once again, the key word is solidarity. Without expecting any reward, it is ’unreturnable’ giving, which is clearly ‘returnable’, this is the true solidarity.
José Saramago, the Portuguese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, writes:
We are lying in a cradle that is moving smoothly and there is a voice that whispers around the world: „sleep, sleep quiet, we will govern you. Most of all do not dream, do not dream, do not dream, do not dream…“ And we, obedient, do not dream.
We shall not fear to dream!
Dream of what we haven’t done yet, but can still do; of what we aren’t yet, but can still be, of what the others aren’t yet and don’t have yet and don’t do, but through us can have, do, be…
Wasn’t the fall of the Berlin Wall a dream?
Wasn’t the end of communism in Europe a dream?
Wasn’t a united Europe a dream?
We shall not fear to dream!
And there is a lack of dreamers nowadays!
The dream is already half way through, mainly when it is connected to the faith in Jesus, who is able of doing everything and with whom we achieve everything.
‘Men with little faith, why don’t you dream?’ Jesus asks us today.
A Polish poet, Hegel’s contemporary, Julicisz Slowacky, wrote: “The entire Europe was like a cathedral. Faith joined its pillars together, the building touched the sky“.
Where is such a faith?
What happened to Christians?
Christianity has ended, but what about Christianism?
In the majority of western countries, Churches are empty and if they aren’t it’s because there are less Masses per Sunday.
However, Vatican is still crowded, crowded by Church officers, full of pomp and circumstance, of money and tourists! It even has a Swiss guard as a symbol of protection and defence!
People speak of Europe and economy, of Europe and politics, of integration problems and other issues, but people are too shy to talk about religious issues, the multiplicity of religions and questions related to that reality. Just as a matter of curiosity, and taking into account Berlin’s special characteristics, there are today in this city 10% Catholics, 35% Protestants, approximately 12% Muslims and 40% people without religion.
Before such a situation and given the different religious realities in the European Union, the religious question will have to be addressed from an ecumenical perspective, with a deep and true respect for the Protestant Church, Orthodox Church and Islam.
To speak about Europe’s re-evangelization, as it is sometimes heard, is to instil undesirable fears, as it was the case of the Scandinavian countries, which feared that, with their admission into Europe, a tendency to Catholic paternalism would rule over Europe. In fact, the term ‘re-evangelization’ does not correspond to what the Pope has been writing and saying. The Pope has been making reference to a new European evangelization, which has and should have a different interpretation. It will be a new way of evangelizing and not Vatican’s proclamation of its right to hegemony.
In this context, it is important to recall that, although the religions’ role is not clearly defined in the European Community, the 11th declaration added to the Amsterdam Treaty says that the European Community recognizes the protected status of churches, religions and religious associations in each country’s legal dispositions, and does not interfere with them.
It should be mentioned that the Apostolic Nuntiatur’s special place in the European Community, although justified by the fact that Vatican is a state, has given rise to a wave of protest and dissatisfaction, even inside the Catholic Church itself. This happened because Vatican’s position is considered to be a special privilege in comparison to other religions and churches. Although it is said that such a position does not aim at providing for the protection and defence of the Catholic Church’s rights, but aims at intervening in questions related to common values, such as peace, dignity, human rights, etc., the truth is that only the Catholic Church holds such position. Why? Is it justified?
The history of the Catholic Church in Europe is not linearly evangelical, and if it is true that it spread evangelical values, it is also true that the power it held for centuries was due to its unions and pacts with the civil power, to the wars it instigated and to the economical power it had. Not to mention the fears it instilled in the believers and, by doing so, kept them under its control and at its service.
It would be interesting to deepen these questions from a historical point of view; however, the time does not allow it. Nevertheless, I leave here the challenge of rereading or restudying the history of the Catholic Church in Europe because there are certain aspects that an informed Christian cannot ignore, even if he only wants to know how to defend a point of view, sometimes with all his humbleness, since he is able to recognize the mistakes the Church has committed and still is committing.
Going back a little: before the cultural and religious diversity, the recognition of this reality and the respect for the first, where the true richness of Europe lies, we cannot speak of a ‘Christian Europe’, much less if Turkey also joins the Union.
It is in the dialogue with the different, trying to find common references and respecting divergences that the Catholic Church must act, inwards and outwards. A new type of true fraternity must be found.
Recognition of a brother or sister and a son or daughter of God in every man and in every woman; Protestant, Muslim, Atheist, White, Black, Yellow, Indian, Gypsy… will go a long way. Some four or five years ago, I was involved in a discussion about a theological question with other Dominican laymen. One of them, in an insulting tone, called some ‘protestants’. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to!!
A new way of preaching the Gospel should be found, as well as a new dynamics in the life of the Church, both of which should conform to the truly revolutionary changing dynamics that are taking place.
‘Revolutionary“ is not a word taken from the Gospel, but there is another one, which I have already mentioned which is evangelic: ‘metanoia’. In Greek, ‘noin’ means ‘to think’ and ‘meta’ is a preposition which means ‘re-(again)’ or ‘in another way’. Therefore ‘metanoia’ is: to think in another way, commonly translated by ‘’conversion’. We need this conversion in order to be able to analyze critically. We, our way of living and understanding faith, our Church’s weaknesses should be the first object of this critical analysis, and not the others – which is always a much easier analysis to do – so that we do not fall in an euro-central perspective of Christianism, a intellectually proud perspective, longing for a dominant and dominating past. That conversion’s success will be a significant sign of the Church’s universality, which sees itself as catholic. ‘Kat holon’ is a Greek term that means ‘all including’.
Do we know how to respect the laity of the European Community’s and many of its member states? Under laity should be understood the State’s neutral character towards ideologies.
Do we know how to fight laity, an institutionalized ideological attitude hostile towards religions? Do we know how to fight against that laity, even if it implies a religion other than ours?
Is the Church of Rome willing to revise and convert its positions on the original historical traditions of Christianism and on concrete present situations?
Is the Church of Rome capable of revising dogmas and recognizing the interpretation errors it committed?
Is the Church of Rome capable of changing the mistaken and unfair orientations of its priests, theologians, laymen in general, women, in terms of moral, sexual and social orientations?
Is the Church of Rome willing to resign its structural weight and massive character?
Is the Church of Rome willing to accept the construction of small communities with a true, communitarian and fraternal spirit – like the first Christian communities – without institutional weight of a head’s religious individuality?
What Is the Church of Rome’s aim with the new document, recently published by the Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “Redemptiones Sacramentum“ about certain aspects that should be observed and avoided towards the Holy Eucharist? How simple and dignified was Jesus’s last supper!
What does our church fear? Why so many prohibitions, restrictions and recommendations?
Are we convinced that this is the way through which the world will get better, the way through which we contribute to peace and social justice?
Do we really believe that God’s infinite Love implies so much legislation and interdiction?
If Jesus came to Earth today, He would surely be killed again, but this time for setting fire to many of the written pieces, archived in Vatican and by being offended. He would ask again, as 2000 years ago in the temple, “What are you doing with my Father’s house? What are you doing with my doctrines?
I am quoting the theologian Herbert Haag, professor at the University of T(bingen and one of the greatest experts in biblical sciences, who died in 1991:
Certainly Jesus did not want that only one man governed religiously thousand million people. Certainly Jesus did not want either that women were discriminated. Jesus wanted a Church of men and women disciples, a fraternal Church and not a Church with two classes: the clergy and the laymen. Although the laymen represent more than 99 % of the Church and the clergy less than 1%, it is the clergy who has the last word on the subject.
Has the Catholic Church enough courage and faith to convert its hierarchical ‘Church of priests’ into a ‘Church of the people of God’, a fraternal, human Church breathing and transpiring freedom, freeing freedom, following Jesus’s steps?
How many scandals and undesirable situations could be certainly avoided!
A Church that does not need to auto-proclaim a man’s infallibility to maintain its authority.
A Church of women and men with women and men.
Jesus today would ask: faithless Church, why do you doubt? Who do you trust?
This Church of which I am speaking is – paraphrasing the title of the book of the theologian Bernhard Häring – is the Church I love. It is also my Church and is, on the one hand with sadness, and on the other thanking God for being able to do it, that I feel obligated to point out aspects with which I am not able identify myself, nor can I identify the Jesus and the God ‘Abba’ I know, dearest Father who wants to embrace all in His immense Love. I recall S. Paul in his letter to the Romans: “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.“ (Rom 12,2)
I still have to mention the great challenge among Catholics in the European Union: the relationship between Eastern Catholics and Western Catholics. Their very different past stories caused different ways of living and understanding Christianity. If in the West we can talk about intellectual pride, in the East we can talk about moral pride. An oppressed religion causes a strong fighting spirit that resists opposition, an attitude of defence. In Poland, there governs a certain feeling of ‘being the chosen people’, of supremacy due to the fact that the Churches there are crowded and the number of priesthood vocations is high. But new crusades, no!
Will the stigmatized feelings caused by persecutions become evangelic poverty and signs of humility?
Will there be respect from the West towards the admiration for the Pope, deeper in the Eastern countries than in the others?
Are the Catholics in the West willing to see in the Eastern Churches more than conservativeness and exuberant nationalism?
Will Western Catholics abandon cultural protectionism?
Will Western Catholics know how to value the Polish Christian enculturation, which has proved stronger than communism?
A new era opens to the European Catholic Church, which will have to know how to face the inevitable laity and secularization, and will have to renew itself in the proclamation of essential and determinant values for the healthy and fraternal sociability among all people. Its success will depend on the authority of that same proclamation – note that I am talking about authority and not authoritarianism – on the convincing, firm and enlightened but also humble and merciful attitude to be adopted. That success, which is not translatable in the number of people attending Mass, but in the hope with which people face life, the future, the transcendence, that great question common to all. Hope will have to be the result of our proclamation. People should be taken out of the Mount Calvary, from the cross contemplation and taken to experience the open tumulus, the Christ Resurrected, who sets out on a journey with us: he who we, by looking for Him among the dead, cannot find out that He is alive, that He is our Hope. And we, who believe in Him and were given the great gift that is faith, must become His and Hope’s true visible instruments, among all men, among the world.
Let’s imagine an argument in Heaven, where Jesus is meeting all the representatives of several European countries in order to plan his trip to Europe. The first thing to be discussed is Jesus’s nationality. The German man and the French woman soon start arguing because each of them thinks that his/her country is the most important, the one with more cultural traditions, with more political importance in Europe’s History. Therefore the German man wants Jesus to come to Europe as German and the French woman wants Jesus to some as French. But soon the Polish man said: “No way, we even have the Pope! No, Jesus must be Polish!“ Then the voice of someone no one had noticed before said, ‘No, no, Jesus is surely going to be Portuguese because Our Lady appeared in Fátima and Fátima is as important as Rome.’ ‘No, I do not agree’, protested the Finnish man, ’Jesus should be Scandinavian because Christians in Scandinavia are a minority and Jesus should strengthen that minority’. The Italian, who was already getting nervous, said. ‘None of you is right, in terms of Christianism Italy is holy land; saints, popes, the Vatican… it is clear that Jesus will be an Italian’.
Jesus just laughed, he was amusing himself as he listened to the discussion, until he said, ’Okay, you have already helped me decide. I will go down as the daughter of an Algerian emigrant in France!’ Everyone complained, ’No, this is impossible, you must be someone more… more… are you going as a woman!? An emigrant’s daughter!? An Algerian?! No, you must be someone more… And, one by one, they left the place, shaking their heads, disappointed. Jesus gave a good laugh and remained there, watching them going away. ‘You will never learn’, Jesus told them loudly.
Then Jesus started writing the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness…“
In another cloud he wrote: ‘Love your enemies…’
The Sermon on the Mount is a true revolutionary program. To love the enemies and implant a new social order, in whose centre is Man, Man’s dignity built on God: the blessed man.
If to this man’s image that Jesus proclaims we add Jesus’s attitude towards the poor, the excluded, women, the marginal, ill, handicapped, we gain a very clear image of what Jesus values in the world and in the human being. This programme taken seriously is worse than a bomb!
The categorization of people by race, social class, nation, religion, sex, and social importance is what gave birth to the most terrible atrocities throughout history, also in European History.
To denounce social injustices and the lack of dignity towards someone personally is not enough. It is an imperative, a duty of Christians to recover that dignity, to be the Samaritan who has just passed by.
Nowadays and in developed countries, altruism is widespread and has a very social character that is easily labelled as ‘left’. Altruism is to have a dignified house, access to education, good nourishment, social security, which is really security in case of illness, accident, unemployment, pension, dignified work conditions, protection against discharge, dignified treatment in public hospitals, support and respect for single mothers, for children – let the children be children – assistance for prisoners, for those who are considered society’s marginalized, etc.
When in Gospel Jesus is asked: ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’, Jesus answers:
You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Mt 22, 36-39).
In Moses, love of neighbour and love for God were still separated. Love of God is in Deuteronomy (Dt 6,4) and the appeal for loving ones neighbour is in Leviticus (Lev 19,18).
Jesus makes a giant leap: Jesus puts the commandment to love your neighbour at the same level as the commandment to love God.
In S. Matthew’s Gospel can be read: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22,40) and S. Mark, who reports the same writes: “There is no other commandment greater that these.” (Mc 12, 31b) Jesus also told us to love our enemies. Love of ones enemies is included in the love of the neighbours. Jesus transforms the love of ones neighbour, be he friend or enemy, into a unity and indissoluble union with the love for God.
If Jesus came today as a European citizen, he would surely neither be a priest, nor a bishop, nor a cardinal, nor Pope… He wouldn’t be either president of a government, a businessman, nor shareholder of a multinational…
I do not know if he would be a man or a woman…
His disciples would be for us a surprise because, as S. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wide, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. (1 Cor 1, 27-29)
I just know two things:
The first one is that Jesus, as a citizen, would not accept this Europe or the rest of the world;
The second is that Jesus is a European citizen in each European woman and in each European man.
I end with the Prayer of the United Nations:
Oh Lord, our planet Earth is only a small star in space. It is our duty, to transform it into a planet whose creatures are no longer tormented by war, hunger and fear, no longer senselessly divided by race, colour and ideology. Give us courage and strength to begin this task today so that our children and children’s children shall one day carry the name of „MAN“ with pride.
Zaida Rocha Ferreira
President ECLDF 2001-2004