ROME — In a visit to a community dedicated to serving the poor and needy, Pope Francis warned of the poverty of Europe, which faces a declining birthrate, hidden forms of euthanasia and high rates of unemployment.
“Today, I speak of Europe. Europe is tired. We have to help rejuvenate it, to find its roots. It’s true: It has disowned its roots. But we need to help it find them,” he said to the St. Egidio community in Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere on June 15.
“The treatment of the elderly, as that of children, is an indicator showing the quality of a society. When the elderly are discarded, when the elderly are isolated and sometimes closed off without affection, it’s a bad sign,” he said.
The St. Egidio community provides various forms of social outreach to the impoverished, homeless, refugees and immigrants, the elderly, disabled and young people. Their service also consists of inviting people to participate in a deeper life of prayer.
Several members of the Church movement shared their testimonies with the Holy Father, explaining how they had been in a difficult situation due to poverty or immigration or disability, and the community reached out to them to offer help and spiritual support.
The Holy Father affirmed their work: “How good it is ... that alliance I see between young people and the elderly in which everyone receives and gives.”
“The elderly and their prayers are a richness for St. Egidio. A people that does not safeguard its elderly, that does not take care of its young people, is a people without a future, a people without hope. Because the youth — the children, the young people — and the elderly carry history forward.”
He noted that although young people provide “biological strength” for society, the elderly “give them their memory.”
“When a society loses memory, it’s over. It’s finished. It’s terrible to see a society, a people, a culture that has lost memory,” he said.
An economic world which holds “the idol of money” at its center, rather than “man and woman,” risks becoming a “throwaway culture,” Pope Francis stated.
“Children are thrown away: no children. Just think of the growth rate of children in Europe: in Italy, Spain, France. The elderly are thrown away with these attitudes, behind which is a hidden euthanasia, a form of euthanasia: uselessness. That which isn’t useful is thrown away.”
“And today the crisis is so great that young people are discarded. We think of these 75 million young people of 25 years or younger, who are ‘neither-nor’: neither working nor studying. Without. It happens today in this tired Europe.”
The Pope went on to criticize a “speculative economy” that often makes the poor “more and more poor, depriving them of the essentials, such as home and work.”
He noted the importance of solidarity — a word which “many want to remove from the dictionary, because, to a certain culture, it seems to be a dirty word.”
“Oh no: It is a Christian word, solidarity,” he said.
Pope Francis then thanked the St. Egidio community for being a place of welcome and solidarity not just to local people, but also to immigrants, who have arrived after “painful and risk-filled travel.”
The Holy Father extended his thanks to all involved in the work of the community beyond Rome, “in other countries of the world. I also encourage them to be friends of God, of the poor and of peace. Whoever lives like this will find blessing in life and will be a blessing for others.”
He stressed the importance of such outreach, particularly in “hectic and sometimes confusing city life.”
“It all starts with prayer. Prayer preserves the anonymous man of the city from the temptations which can also affect us: the attention-seeking in which everything revolves around oneself, indifference, victimhood.”
He added, “Prayer is the first work of your community and consists in listening to the Word of God — this Bread, the bread [of Christ] that gives us the strength that is there, that keeps us going forward — but also in turning our eyes to him, as in this basilica.”