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Fears Brexit reflects much wider malady

OXFORD (SE): While Church leaders in the United Kingdom (UK) expressed concern over the possible fallout from the 52 to 48 per cent vote to quit the European Union, bishops on the continent pointed out that the decision runs directly in the face of the call of the modern world for unity.

The president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, told KAI that while his conference respects the decision of the British people, it is necessary to remember that unity is a higher value than division and what has been achieved in forging European unity to date is the work of many generations.

But his confrère, Archbishop Henryk Muszunski, was harsh in his criticism, telling KAI, “Brexit is the outcome of separatist, populist and egotistic tendencies, shown both at personal and social levels, which have been discernable in Europe for a long time. I fear the decision won’t serve Great Britain, Europe or the world.”

Nevertheless, he called it a wakeup call to the Union, which is united more by declaration than lived experience and may have to be rethought from the beginning.

But while Union identity may be a construct, the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, points out in his book, Not Quite the Diplomat, in a chapter entitled, Not Tuppence for the Rest, that British identity is also a construct, albeit an old one, dating back to the Act of Union in 1707, which maybe saw the writing on the wall with the funeral of Winston Churchill, “who was commonly regarded as the repository and progenitor of our grandest notions of who we are” (p36).

Britain now faces the challenge of finding a new construct for a new identity, as changed circumstances demand a different notion of nationhood, both for its own cohesion and to ensure that it continues to contribute to the global society.

The president of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, said, “The increasing nationalism in some countries must not again become the trigger of ideological delimitation, hostility and discord.”

However, the Church in England was more circumspect, with Vincent Cardinal Nichols looking to contain the fallout.

The archbishop of Westminster said, “We pray that in this process, the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employers and human traffickers.”

He added, “We pray that our nations will build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy.”

Reflecting the fear that the result of the referendum evidences a growing isolationism and mistrust of neighbouring nations, the archbishop of Westminster said, “We now must work hard to show ourselves to be good neighbours in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems in our world today.”

While the European bishops expressed a need to reimagine the basic concept of the European Union, German Archbishop Stefan Hesse told KNA that he hopes that the dream of unity in Europe will not be buried alive by self-serving gravediggers.

He told Kathpress, “We must warn against the rise of provincial mentalities and group egoisms. Transnational problems and challenges cannot be solved nationally.”

Archbishop Justin Welby, from Canterbury, and the Anglican Archbishop John Sentamu expressed their agreement, saying in a joint statement, “The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all reimagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.”

They joined Cardinal Nichols in calling on the British public and government to be bridge-builders, as the UK must live in an interdependent world and so now needs to take a fresh look at what values it must build to shape and guide relations with its global neighbours.

CNS reported that the French Catholic newspaper, La Croix, editorialised that the Brexit campaign in Britain had unleashed alarming passions, which are a challenge to Europe to revise its clichés.

In Belgium, Cathobel suggested that the dream of Europe, as articulated by its post-World War II Catholic statespersons, had been shattered.

It said the death of the dream articulated by people like Robert Shuman, Jean Monet, Paul Henri Spaak and Alcide de Gasperi would only fuel the rise of extreme party populism evidenced in what is called the current refugee crisis.

Cathobel editorialised, “The end of an adventure also marks the beginning of a new one—if a dream is damaged, we must give birth to a new dream.”

French Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet reinforced this view when he said on June 24, “I’ve repeatedly said we should work for a future that is more European than national, but on condition this Europe is an entity that we can identify with.”

The Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community posted a Prayer for Europe on its website and also quoted its president, Cardinal Marx, as saying that the group is planning a congress for October next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which was signed by six countries in 1957 and started the dream of unity rolling with the establishment of the European Economic Community.

He said the congress will “provide religious impulses for the debate on the future of the European Union,” which Archbishop Gadecki described as a key summons, ordained by Christ himself.

“We are convinced this Christ-like unity is the true source of hope for Europe and the world,” he said, adding that even though the European Union has many worrying tendencies, his hope is to see a union of nations built on Christ prevail in a civilisation of love.

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