After meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday morning, the newly-elected vice-president of COMECE, Bishop Czeslaw Kozon of Copenhagen, discusses the realities surrounding the European Union, ranging from migration to the necessity to keep fighting for peace even amidst war.
Bishop Czeslaw Kozon has been bishop of Copenhagen since 1995 and in COMECE since 2007. He was recently elected vice-president of the commission, shortly before meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday morning.
Below is a transcript of Vatican News’ interview:
You have just come from a meeting with Pope Francis and the first obvious question is ‘how was that?’
A meeting with the Holy Father is always very pleasant, his speech was very appropriate.
He said many things that are obvious for people who are really interested in Europe but also things that have to be repeated, especially for younger generations.
He spoke about the charisma of the founding fathers, of their desire to create a Europe based on peace and unity.
And that seems to have been forgotten by many, many people today.
For several decades, the European Union has been seen as a union of economies, enhancing trade and other financial procedures. But it’s very important to think of the European Union as an organisation that really will guarantee peace, which is also often forgotten because we have been used to a peaceful Europe for so many generations.
But at least since last year, this vision of Europe has been endangered by the war in Ukraine and, spontaneously, this war has made the individual countries get closer together. So I hope that this process will continue also because Europe has to become a unified continent to be a closer to the other centres of power around the world, like the United States, like Russia, like China.
And, whereas the other three powers are more or less monolithic, politically, Europe is not.
And that’s why it’s very important to unify the various interests and traditions of individual countries into a common vision.
You speak of unity and unifying, and what you, as European bishops do and what the Holy Father asks of you is to be a bridge between the Church in Europe and the European institutions. How do you do that, and how do you do that while still maintaining the diversity of the different countries?
Well, as a Catholic church, we are universal church. So we are not founded on national churches, even though there are various traditions in individual countries, but we are one church also in Europe.
So that’s our point of departure and regarding the basic topics like doctrine and ethics, we have one common vision, or we should have one common vision as a Catholic church.
So that’s why we use the contacts with the European institutions: to enhance those interest.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the Church is only working for itself. The Church stresses very much the need for humane policies on immigration, definitely on peace, but also to encourage the concern for ecology and climate.
But apart from that, we have a special point that we want to enhance and which is becoming more and more important. The other topics are dealt with by many people of goodwill, but the point I’m thinking of is religious freedom. That’s something I really see endangered in Europe in spite of all tolerance, liberalism, and individualism. That doesn’t seem to always go for religion.
Religion is very often, and more and more often, seen as a danger of something that is compromising a secular vision on Europe and that’s where, as a Church, we have to be very alert and defend those religious values that are not only important to the Church but also fundamentally to human society.
You’ve mentioned several hot topics, but one that stands out to me in particular is the migration crisis and I’m wondering whether that can be linked in a way to the issue of religious persecution. Do you think there is an element of racism involved?
There may be, but I think the main concern of most countries is that they think too many migrants will be more than a single individual country can cope with financially, regarding housing and work and so on. And that’s a concern that is justified.
But then racism and also scepticism about religion can arise when people come from certain parts of the world.
This is not only a problem because it excludes certain people from being welcomed in Europe, but as legislation on migration is more and more developed: who should be allowed in and on what conditions, it would also touch religious freedom in general because, to say it bluntly, many countries are afraid of heavy Muslim immigration.
But when they want to block or impede too heavy a Muslim influence, they have to make laws in order not to discriminate and that will also affect other religion and also Christian churches who have a very long tradition in Europe – also, the Catholic Church in Protestant countries is facing more and more challenges because of this new restricted vision on immigration.
And finally, on a personal note, what do you with your experience, with your interests, what do you hope to bring to the bishops and to Europe?
Well, I share the general vision of Europe.
But coming from a Scandinavian country representing all Scandinavian countries, I hope to be able to contribute with our tradition of dialogue, of consensus, of democracy.
Not that other countries are not democratic, but it’s very, very much developed in the northern countries.
But at the same time, it’s also my duty and mission to minimise euro scepticism in the Nordic countries.