Pope Francis was on his return flight home from his trip to Greece and Cyprus when he took questions from journalists on Monday.
When asked about the EU’s intention to excise the word ‘Christmas’ from all official documentation, the 84-year-old head of the Catholic Church denounced the idea, borne of a “watered-down secularism,” saying that “in history many, many dictatorships have tried to do this kind of thing. Think of Napoleon … think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one,” reminding them that “it is something that throughout history hasn’t worked.”
He further urged the EU to reflect on the ideals of its founders, “which were ideals of unity, of greatness, and be careful not to take the path of ideological colonization. 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.”
Striking a note that could be interpreted as wariness towards aspects of the European project, the Pontiff warned about what might happen to an already considerably weakened democracy when 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.”
The proposal being referred to is in fact a 32-page manual, which prescribes what language is to be employed in all EU institutions. Under the banner of ‘Union of Equality,’ it recommends among other things the use of ‘holiday period’ instead of ‘Christmas period’ to avoid ‘offending’ non-Christians living in the bloc.
As expected, the document drew the ire of many far-right and conservative politicians, in particular over suggesting that staff members should ‘avoid assuming that everyone is Christian’ as they celebrate the second most holy day in all of Christendom.
Backlash from several member states forced the EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to withdraw the document for revision.