Human communication

Pope Francis in Greece: “We are witnessing a decline in democracy”.


“Here democracy is born,” Pope Francis said in a powerful opening speech in Athens in which he expressed grave concern that “today, and not just in Europe, we are witnessing a decline in democracy ”and underlined the urgent need for“ a change of course. “

He expressed his concern when he addressed the Greek authorities, members of his civil society and the diplomatic corps at the presidential palace in Athens, upon his arrival in the Greek capital on December 4.

He spoke after receiving a warm welcome from Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who said the country was honored to have chosen to come a second time and in a year it was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek revolution against the Ottomans. rule that led to the present modern state.

In a powerful keynote address in Athens, Pope Francis expressed grave concern that “today, and not just in Europe, we are witnessing a decline in democracy”.

In words that seemed to address not only the Greeks but also a wider audience, Francis recalled that “democracy requires the participation and involvement of all; therefore, it takes hard work and patience. It’s complex, while authoritarianism is peremptory and populism’s easy answers seem alluring.

He noted that “in some security-conscious societies blunted by consumerism, weariness and discontent can lead to a kind of skepticism about democracy.” He stressed that “universal participation is essential; not just to achieve common goals but also because it corresponds to who we are: social beings, both unique and interdependent.

He drew attention to the fact that today, “there is also a skepticism towards democracy caused by the remoteness of institutions, by the fear of a loss of identity, by the bureaucracy”.

Democracy “is complex, while authoritarianism is peremptory and the easy answers of populism seem attractive.”

“The cure does not lie in an obsessive quest for popularity, in a thirst for visibility, in a flurry of unrealistic promises or in adhering to ideological forms of colonization but in good policy,” said Francis.

He reaffirmed what he said in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”:

Politics is, and in practice must be, a good thing, as the supreme responsibility of citizens and as an art of the common good. For the good to be truly shared, special attention, I would even say priority, must be given to the weakest layers of society. This is the direction to take.

Francois insisted that “a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, spread daily to create division.

“Instead, let’s help each other move from partisanship to participation; to commit ourselves to supporting our party alone to actively engage in the promotion of all.

He pleaded for political and social leaders to move from partisanship to participation on issues such as “the climate, the pandemic, the common market and, most importantly, widespread forms of poverty.”

“These are challenges that call for concrete and active cooperation. The international community needs them to open paths of peace through a multilateralism that will not end up being stifled by excessive nationalist demands. Politics need it to put common needs ahead of private interests. “

Francois insisted that “a change of direction is needed, even as fears and theories, amplified by virtual communication, spread daily to create division.

François admitted that “it may seem like a utopia, a hopeless journey on rough seas, a long and unachievable odyssey. Yet, as the great Homeric epic tells us, traveling rough seas is often our only choice. And it will achieve its objective if it is animated by the desire to come to the home port, by the effort to move forward together.

In a speech in which he referred to Socrates, Homer, Aristotle and Hippocrates – and recalled that the Gospels were written in Greek – Pope Francis said: “Without Athens and without Greece, Europe and the world would not be what they are. They would be less wise, less happy, ”said Francis.

“From Mount Olympus to the Acropolis via Mount Athos, Greece invites men and women of all ages to orient their life course towards the heights. Towards God, because we need transcendence to be truly human ”, he declared. He notes, however, that today in the West “there is an oversight of our need for paradise, trapped as we are between the frenzy of a thousand earthly worries and the insatiable greed for depersonalizing consumerism”.

Francis said that from Athens “our gaze is directed not only towards what is above, but also towards others”. He recalled that “here, in the famous words of Socrates, people began to see themselves as citizens not only of one city or one country, but of the whole world. Citizens. Here, man first realized that he was “a political animal” and, as a member of the community, began to see others not as subjects but as fellow citizens with whom to work together in the future. organization of the polis.

In the West today “there is an oversight of our need for paradise, trapped as we are between the frenzy of a thousand earthly worries and the insatiable greed for depersonalizing consumerism”.

He told his world audience, “here democracy was born” and “thousands of years later” it has become “a great house of democratic peoples”, namely “the European Union and the dream of peace and fraternity that it represents for so many peoples. “

In his unusually long speech, delivered in Italian, Pope Francis also touched on the migration crisis. He said: “This naturally welcoming country has seen on some of its islands the arrival of a number of our migrant brothers and sisters greater than the number of their native inhabitants; this increased the difficulties still felt in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

At the same time, he declared, “the European community, prey to forms of nationalist interest rather than a motor of solidarity, sometimes appears blocked and uncoordinated”. He recalled that in the 20th century “ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe” and declared that “today the issue of migration has also leads to ruptures between the South and the North “.

He called for “a global and community vision of the issue of migration” and insisted that “attention be paid to the most disadvantaged, so that in proportion to the means of each country, they are welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. , with full respect for their human rights and dignity.

“The European community, prey to forms of nationalist interest rather than a motor of solidarity, sometimes appears blocked and uncoordinated.

“Rather than a current obstacle,” he said, “it represents a guarantee for a future marked by peaceful coexistence with all those who are increasingly forced to flee in search of a new home and of new hope, they are the protagonists of a horrible modern Odyssey.

He recalls that “when Ulysses landed in Ithaca, he was recognized, not by the local lords, who had usurped his house and his property, but by the person who took care of him, his old nurse. He recognized it when he saw his injuries.

“Suffering brings us together,” said Francis. “Realizing that we are all part of the same fragile humanity will help us build a more integrated and peaceful future. Let’s turn what appears to be a tragic calamity into a daring opportunity! “

He also spoke of the pandemic, “a great calamity” which “made us rediscover our own weakness and our need for others”. He called the government’s vaccination campaign in Greece “necessary”, but also noted that amid great difficulties “there has been a remarkable growth in solidarity”, to which, he said, the small Greco-Catholic Church is happy to contribute.

Pope Francis congratulated Greece on its faith and Christian traditions and encouraged it to continue “on the path of openness, inclusion and justice”.

He concluded his speech with these words:

From this city, from this cradle of civilization, that a message continues to resonate forever which lifts our gaze both upwards and towards others; that democracy can be the answer to authoritarian siren songs; and that individualism and indifference can be overcome through concern for others, the poor, and creation. For these are the essential foundations of the renewed humanity that our time and our Europe need. [In Greek:] May God bless Greece!