Pope Francis speaks during an in-flight press conference on the journey from Athens to Rome, Dec. 6, 2021. / Vatican Media.
Rome, Italy, Dec 6, 2021 / 08:45 am (CNA).
Pope Francis said on Monday that a withdrawn document discouraging European Commission staff from using the word “Christmas” was an “anachronism.”
The pope was asked to comment on the 32-page internal document, called “#UnionOfEquality. European Commission Guidelines for Inclusive Communication,” during his in-flight press conference en route from Greece to Italy on Dec. 6.
He noted that a series of ideologies had attempted to pull up Europe’s Christian roots.
“You refer to the European Union document on Christmas… this is an anachronism,” he said.
“In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do it. Think of Napoleon: from there… Think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one… it is a fashion of a watered-down secularism, distilled water… But this is something that throughout hasn’t worked.”
The European Commission guide urged officials to “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian.” The commission is the executive branch of the European Union, a political and economic bloc of 27 member states.
“Not everyone celebrates the Christian holidays, and not all Christians celebrate them on the same dates,” the document said.
The guide encouraged staff based in the Belgian capital, Brussels, and Luxembourg to avoid a phrase such as “Christmas time can be stressful” and instead say “Holiday times can be stressful.”
She said: “It is not a mature document and does not meet all Commission quality standards. The guidelines clearly need more work. I therefore withdraw the guidelines and will work further on this document.”
Speaking to journalists on Monday, the pope stressed that the EU should uphold the ideals of its founding fathers, who included committed Catholics such as Robert Schuman and Alcide De Gasperi, who the pope quoted during a major speech on democracy in Athens on Dec. 4.
“The European Union must take in hand the ideals of the founding fathers, which were ideals of unity, of greatness, and be careful not to take the path of ideological colonization,” the pope told reporters at the end of his five-day visit to Cyprus and Greece.
“This could end up dividing the countries and [causing] the European Union to fail. The European Union must respect each country as it is structured within, the variety of countries, and not want to make them uniform.”
“I don’t think it will do that, it wasn’t its intention, but be careful, because sometimes they come, and they throw projects like this one out there and they don’t know what to do, I don’t know what comes to mind…”
“No, each country has its own peculiarity, but each country is open to the others. The European Union: its sovereignty, the sovereignty of brothers in a unity that respects the individuality of each country. And be careful not to be vehicles of ideological colonization. That is why [the issue] of Christmas is an anachronism.”
Shortly before the guide was withdrawn, the Vatican’s Secretary of State sharply criticized the document.
In an interview published by Vatican News on Nov. 30, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that the text was going “against reality” by downplaying Europe’s Christian roots.
Europe’s Catholic bishops welcomed the document’s withdrawal.
The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) said that it “cannot help being concerned about the impression that an anti-religious bias characterized some passages of the draft document.”
The pope was also asked during the press conference about whether he was referring to specific countries when he spoke of a “retreat from democracy” in a speech at the Presidential Palace in Athens on Saturday.
He replied that he believed there were two main threats to democracy: “populism” and a drift towards “a kind of supranational government.”
He said: “I am thinking of a great populism of the last century, Nazism, which was a populism that, defending national values, as it said, ended up annihilating democratic life, indeed life itself with the death of the people, in becoming a bloody dictatorship.”
“Today I will say, because you asked about right-wing governments, let’s be careful that governments — I’m not saying right-wing or left-wing, I’m saying something else — let’s be careful that governments don’t slip down this road of populism, of so-called political ‘populisms,’ which have nothing to do with popularism, which is the free expression of peoples, who express themselves with their identity, their folklore, their values, their art…”
He went: “On the other hand, democracy is weakened, [it] enters a path where it slowly [weakens] when national values are sacrificed, are watered down towards, let’s say — an ugly word, but I can’t find another one — towards an ‘empire,’ a kind of supranational government, and this is something that should make us think.”
The pope cited the 1907 novel “Lord of the World,” by the English Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, joking that he would be criticized for his “old-fashioned” taste in literature.
He recalled that the novel “imagines a future in which an international government through economic and political measures governs all the other countries.”
“And when you have this kind of government, he explains, you lose freedom and you try to achieve equality among all; this happens when there is a superpower that dictates economic, cultural, and social behaviour to the other countries,” the pope said.
“The weakening of democracy is caused by the danger of populism, which is not popularism, and the danger of these references to international economic and cultural powers. That’s what comes to mind, but I’m not a political scientist, I’m just saying what I think.”