Pope Francis had one of his customary in-flight press conferences today on his way back from his visit to Greece and Cyprus. In response to a question about a European Commission member’s (later retracted) suggestion to avoid discussing “Christmas” in official EU communications, Francis had this to say:

But this makes me think of something, talking about the European Union, which I believe is necessary: 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 colonisation. 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 colonisation.

When asked a question about threats to democracy:

I see two dangers to democracy today: one is that of populism, which is here and there, and is beginning to show its claws. 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… Populism is one thing [popularism is another].

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 whole transcript is worth a read. Pope Francis is often accused of taking an approach to world politics fundamentally that of a secular liberal internationalist. However, these quotes show that he is in fact very interested in charting a straight, middle course between the rocks of closed-off nationalism and the shoals of a banal, homogenized world. This is worth reflecting on in a polarized age. Oftentimes the old adage is true: the opposite of a heresy is another heresy rather than orthodoxy. The opposite of a danger is another danger rather than safety.

Image: “Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis” by James Gillray.

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Nathan Turowsky is a native New Englander and now lives in Upstate New York. A lifelong fascination with religious ritual led him into first the Episcopal Church and then the Catholic Church. An alumnus of Boston University School of Theology and one of the relatively few Catholic alumni of that primarily Wesleyan institution, he is unmarried and works in the nonprofit sector. He writes at Silicate Siesta.

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