Monday

21st May 2018

'EU saint' waiting for a miracle

  • Schuman memorial stone outside the main EU commission building in Brussels (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

With EU personalities over the weekend speaking out on the occasion of Schuman Day, Robert Schuman himself, an early architect of the Union, has hit a hurdle on his way to becoming a Roman Catholic saint due to the lack of a miracle.

Schuman, a former French foreign minister, who declared on 9 May 1950 that France and Germany should link up their coal and steel industries, was in 1960 dubbed a "founding father" of the Union by the European Parliament in a title recalling the "fathers" of the Catholic church such as St Augustine and St Gregory.

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The Institut Saint-Benoit, a foundation in Montingy-les-Metz, France, where Schuman spent much of his life, was set up in 1988 to promote his candidacy for sainthood.

According to its literature, the foundation believes that Schuman is an "exemplary Christian" both in terms of his personal life and the "holiness of his politics" in seeking to prevent another World War II-type conflict in Europe.

The Vatican has been looking into his eligibility for 21 years. But despite abundant material testifying to his piety and good works, the Schuman dossier has hit a major stumbling block.

"I even asked him [Pope John Paul II] myself on this point ... and he answered clearly that in the case of a politician, it is necessary to proceed with great rigour and to demand a miracle," Pierre Raffin, the Bishop of Metz, wrote in a letter in 2004 forwarded to EUobserver by his office.

When asked if the situation had changed under Pope Benedict XVI or if any new information had come to light, a contact in the Vatican's embassy to the EU in Brussels said: "We are still waiting for a miracle. One miracle is required for beatification and two for sainthood."

The leaders of the three main EU institutions - Jose-Manuel Barroso, Jerzy Buzek and Herman Van Rompuy, all Christian democrats - on 1 May in Rome attended the beatification of John Paul II, who is said to have healed a French nun with Parkinson's disease.

Van Rompuy's spokesman told this website that John Paul II made a "historic contribution" to post-Cold War European reunification. But the three men kept their visit low key, with no official statements or photos.

For her part, Johanna Touzel, a spokeswoman for Comece, a Brussels-based liaison bureau between the Catholic church and the EU institutions, said "it has certainly helped" in past relations that the three top men in the EU capital are Christians.

Touzel added that EU citizens who are Muslims or Jews should not feel alienated by any celebration of Christian EU 'fathers.'

"Recognising the Christian roots of Europe doesn't mean to close up to other heritages, inputs and evolutions. It simply means to recognise that the universal vocation of the European project is rooted in one major source: the Christian message, which after centuries has been translated into policies," she said.

She cited examples such as "the Judaeo-Christian concept of human dignity" which the EU now calls "human rights" and "care for the weakest" which the EU now calls "solidarity."

Others were more wary, however.

A tour guide at the European Robert Schuman Centre in Scy-Chazelles, France, told EUobserver that some Muslim teenagers refuse to go into its museum because of the numerous Catholic references.

Rabbi David Rosen, a leading Jewish commentator, said: "Europe has a Judaeo-Christian heritage - this is simply historic truth. However in places, Europe already had an Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian-Muslim) heritage - specifically in the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Balkans. The reality today is that Europe is substantially Abrahamic and those who exclude Islam are doing a disservice to themselves as well as to Muslims."

The EU leaders' messages on Schuman Day echoed some of the themes and vocabulary surrounding Schuman's Christian identity.

Van Rompuy voiced openness toward Arab revolutionaries in the context of popular fears about immigration and terrorism, saying "this [the Arab spring] has nothing to do with extremism."

Buzek said the EU needs to "reach our hand to those who share our dreams, but who have not been on the winning side of history" naming Belarus, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. Barroso called Schuman a "visionary pragmatist" and said "we owe it to him and the other founding fathers" to keep the EU going despite recent crises.

Looking from the outside in, US secretary of state Hilary Clinton underlined Western mores as the basis of the EU-US alliance, saying: "We share a commitment to the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, respect for the rule of law and human rights."

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