Year two thousand: breakthrough the horizon of freedom and human rights
| Francesco Follo
Mgr. Francesco Follo
I am happy to greet everyone on your behalf, and before I turn over the floor to Ms Muriel de Pierrebourg who has so kindly come to greet us on behalf of UNESCO, I think it would be appropriate for me to briefly present the purpose and goals of this conference.
History, needless to say, is about what was said in the past, but also about what will be said in the future. Indeed, words tell the story of the past so that it can be remembered, but they also anticipate the future as its "prophecy". We listen to the story of the past in order to understand the present and plan for our future. We see History like God's gaze, embracing everything, past and future, brought together in today's vision. Our goal is to know who we are and especially who we shall be by looking at what we were.
Therefore, I believe that in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the membership of the Holy See in UNESCO we ought to keep in mind three aspects of life and history.
First of all, we must remember the past; recall the heritage of these 50 years as part of the 2,000-year history of Christianity as well as the thousands of years that came before.
Secondly, we must remember present-day challenges, that is to say the needs today's rising forces are imposing at this point in time, threatening both the survival and the role of religion in our world.
Finally, we must remember our plans for the future, full of hope, helping us to find the guidelines that will allow humanity and Christianity cross paths.
The Catholic Church and all the other Churches, whether Christian or not, are stewards of memories. This is especially if not uniquely true for the Catholic Church whose memories are not only remembrances of the past but also and especially the presence of the "Living".
The Eucharist is the centre of the life of the Catholic Church, memorial to the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, remembrance of a real presence, which is life for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
In order to protect this "living memory," which is "memory of the living," the Church has taken on the heritage of these thousands of years of which the 50 years we celebrate today are a part. In these 50 years, not only has the second millennium widened the physical horizons of our environment, but it has certainly broadened the scope of freedom and the law.
More than the great explorations and the conquests of science and technology, I think the conquests of freedom are important to understand the millennium that just ended. From the Magna Carta of 1215 to the more recent international charters and treaties we have witnessed the unfolding of a painfully bitter but also glorious journey towards a broader notion of freedom. It is true that in practice such declarations are often betrayed, at least in part; yet it is also true that freedom has prevailed in the end as an unchallenged ideal, so much so that even the great and terrible totalitarianisms of the 20th century felt the need to present themselves as new forms of freedom.
In the second millennium rights were asserted. The spirit of freedom inspired new generations, and contributed so decisively to the crisis of seemingly entrenched tyrannies.
Summing up the role played by "freedom" in the events that transformed Europe and the world, John Paul II told the diplomatic corps in early 1990 that the "thirst for freedom that that rose in them [various peoples] hastened changes, brought down walls and opened doors. Everything was overwhelmed. As you have certainly realised, the Church was often the place where [these changes] started or where people met to start them. Little by little, candles were lit, crafting a real path of lights as if to tell those who thought they could limit man's horizons to this earth that he cannot be chained indefinitely. Under our very eyes, a "Europe of the Spirit" was reborn; inspired by the values and symbols that had once shaped it, by the Christian tradition which bonds all peoples.
Where should we start from? From "Man" said the Holy Father John Paul II; from real living and breathing men, bound by history, for it is they who can provide the "supplement of soul" mentioned by the great philosopher Bergson in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. In view of Bergson's text we can say that this "supplement of soul" calls for solidarity or, even better, charity in the Evangelical sense of the word that no method can measure, but which every method requires. Or, to quote the Holy Father, John Paul II, the "cause of Man will be served when science joins man's conscience. Hence, men of science will truly help humanity if they maintain a sense of mankind's transcendence over the world and God's transcendence over mankind."
The Catholic Church can contribute to building this civilisation based on truth, love and freedom, which is what all men want. It can do so by offering the truth and love of Christ, the Living; a truth that unites man to life, freeing him; building peace by proclaiming the necessity of respecting all human rights.
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