VATICAN CITY (RNS) – Pope Francis has pushed back against internal European Commission directives, which have drawn fire for attempting to ‘cancel Christmas’, equating these efforts with dictatorships as he warned against the “Ideological colonization”.
Internal communications from the European Commission were leaked last week by the Italian daily Il Giornale. The 30-page document, titled “Union for Equality,” advised members “to avoid assuming that everyone is a Christian,” especially during the winter break.
He suggested that committee members avoid using the word “Christmas” in favor of “vacation”. He also advised against using names “which generally belong to one religion”, replacing “Maria and John” with “Malika and Julio” when referring to a hypothetical couple.
The document also provided guidelines on how to approach gender and sexual orientation, drawing criticism from Vatican officials, far-right politicians and also the Pope. The European Commission retracted the document last Thursday, calling it a “work in progress” and promising in a tweet to publish an “updated version”.
The document is “anachronistic,” Pope Francis said Monday (December 6) at a press conference aboard the papal flight returning from his four-day apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece. “Throughout history many, many dictatorships have tried to do this,” he added.
Francis said such efforts are the result of a “watered down” approach to Christianity that has failed throughout history. “The European Union must assume the ideals of the founding fathers, which were ideals of unity, of greatness, and be careful not to pave the way for an ideological colonization”, he declared, which risks to divide countries and could “cause the European Union to fail.”
On his historic visit to Greece, his second trip to the cradle of democracy, Pope Francis focused on the need for Europe to return to its roots while avoiding the temptations of populism and nationalism. His remarks particularly focused on the plight of migrants and refugees, urging European leaders to welcome and integrate religious, ethnic and cultural differences.
The Pope issued a warning to European lawmakers to respect the differences of member countries. “Each country has its own particularity, but each country is open to others,” he said, adding that the sovereignty of Europe and the sovereignty of each member state are part of “a unity which respects the uniqueness of each country”.
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Pope Francis’ right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who heads the Vatican Secretariat of State, also commented on the controversial European document in an interview with Vatican media on November 30. The cardinal noted the “tendency to homogenize everything” without taking into account the “legitimate differences” of countries and religious beliefs.
Parolin said the document released by the European Commission shows “forgetting what is reality” and “canceling our roots”, especially with regard to “Christian festivities”.
“Of course, we know that Europe owes its existence and its identity to many influences, but we certainly cannot forget that one of the main influences, if not the main one, has been Christianity itself”, said he added.
The cardinal also said that the papal trip to the Mediterranean countries of Cyprus and Greece, countries disproportionately left to cope with the influx of migrants and refugees without the support of Europe, “is happening to the right moment”.
“It’s a journey that reminds us of precisely those fundamental dimensions that cannot be erased. We must rediscover the capacity to integrate all these realities without ignoring them, without fighting them, without eliminating them and marginalizing them, ”he said.
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