Making politicians into saints | The new European


As ministerial sins grab the headlines here, “Father of the EU” Robert Schuman is on his way to canonization.

The founding father of the European Union may soon have a halo.

Robert Schuman was the Luxembourgish-born French statesman who founded the Council of Europe and devised the post-war plan for a single European steel and coal authority.

He laid the foundations for the 1957 Treaty of Rome and the European Economic Community which was created the following year, and Schuman became the first President of the European Parliament.

Last month, Pope Francis recognized Schuman’s “heroic virtues”, conferring on the private but deeply Catholic politician the title of “Venerable,” the first of three steps towards full holiness.

The Schuman Declaration, made on May 9, 1950 – the date on which Europe Day is now celebrated – aimed to link the essential resources of Germany and France for the manufacture of armaments and therefore to return everything future conflict between the great European powers “not only unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

Schuman had seen the ravages of war with his own eyes, and for all its apparent banality, a plan focused on coal and steel was in fact a mission for universal brotherhood.

The conflict in Europe had shaped Schuman’s very identity. His father was born in French Alsace-Lorraine but became a German citizen by default when the region was annexed during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

Schuman was born 15 years later with automatic German nationality, but when Alsace-Lorraine returned to France after World War I he was granted French nationality. After training in law, he played a key role in the region’s reintegration into the French legislative framework as a deputy for Moselle, Lorraine, in the French Chamber of Deputies from 1919.

By the time war returned to Europe, Schuman was a deputy minister in the French government. He refused to serve after the establishment of Pétain’s puppet regime and became involved in the French resistance. Arrested by the Gestapo at the end of 1940 and held captive for seven months, he was destined for deportation to Dachau but escaped to the French free zone and managed to hide, often in monasteries and convents, until the end of the war.

Schuman held several French ministerial posts from 1946, formulating the Schuman Declaration during his tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1948 and 1952 after serving as Prime Minister of France for two short periods.

Besides his role in the European project, Schuman was a key figure in the creation of NATO, which reflected the words of his Declaration: “World peace cannot be
safeguarded without making creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it.

The Vatican’s recognition of Schuman makes sense in light of Pope Francis’ negative rumors about Brexit and its undermining of the European project. In the month before the Brexit vote, the Pope received the Charlemagne Prize for European Unity – an award won by Schuman himself in 1958 – and observed that the “desire to create unity seemed to fade. “, disapproving of those who” consider to endure fences “.

In improvised comments just after the vote, he stressed the importance of continuing to guarantee “the coexistence of the whole European continent”, while the last
encyclical of the year Fratelli Tutti (‘All the brothers‘) explained how “in many countries hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools”.

While François criticized the weaknesses of the EU in his speech at the Charlemagne Prize, to which many European leaders were present, particularly targeting his management of the migrant crisis (“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime ”), he indicated that he believed in the European project, as conceived by Schuman and others:“ The founding fathers [of Europe] were heralds of peace and prophets of the future. Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls “.

It is not surprising that he supports Schuman’s elevation to the altars.

Nor is it as surprising as it may seem that a life in politics fits into the definition of the holiness of the Church. Pope Francis said: “Politics, although often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, as it seeks the common good,” and Schuman himself considered it unification of Europe as the final realization of the mission of the Roman Church. unsuccessful efforts to unite Christianity in the Middle Ages. And before “the venerable Robert Schuman” there were precedents for exceptional people who managed to emerge undefiled from the turmoil of politics to be put on the path of holiness.

Schuman’s concept of a supranational European community had been partly shaped by Thomas More Utopia who, he said, “created in the abstract the framework of systems both ingenious and generous”, and More is the most famous of political saints. Canonized in 1935, his martyrdom in the unwavering defense of his Catholic faith made him a spearhead of sanctification.

His violent persecution of Protestant heretics – dismissed as “a reflection[ing] the limits of the culture of his time “when Pope John Paul II made him patron of statesmen and politicians in 2000 – did not stand in the way of holy success.

More recently, Julius Nyerere, the then-Muslim Catholic president of Tanzania for more than 20 years and the nation’s founding father after independence in 1961, has been put forward for possible canonization.

He is still at the bottom of the ladder, his title of “Servant of God” indicating only that his suitability for holiness is under investigation. Its defense of family, community and the poor fits Pope Francis’ message, but it is not clear whether the regime’s human rights violations, including prolonged detention without trial, will hamper its progress.

With the decline of congregations in the West, the Church has a vested interest in the public relations value of figures like Nyerere in areas where its future vitality resides.

But such political saints are rare, and martyrs and those who have lived a formal religious life are much more likely to receive attention as potential saints. Ten of these people – nuns of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in Poland, assassinated by the Red Army in 1945 and considered martyrs “out of hatred of the Faith” – were beatified at the same time as Schuman was declared Venerable. .

This recognition of the victims of the war in Europe alongside the one who swore to ensure permanent peace recalls the millions of individual dramas that spurred Schuman’s project 70 years ago and shows what is really at stake when the ‘we are talking about European unity.


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