The challenge of true dialogue after the attacks in Paris

Julián Carrón

Dear Editor,
Since the events in Paris happened, there has been a great deal of discussion; nobody
has been spared a sense of bewilderment or fear. The numerous analyses offered have brought
forth interesting points for reflecting on and understanding such a complex phenomenon. But
a month later, now that the routine of daily life has taken over again, what remains? What can
keep these disturbing events from rapidly being erased from our memory? To help us
remember, it is necessary to discover the true nature of the challenge posed by the Paris
We Europeans have what our forebears desired: Europe as a space of freedom where
each person can be what she or he wants. The Old Continent has become a crucible of the
most varied cultures, religions and visions of the world.
The events of Paris document how this space of freedom should not be taken for
granted as self-perpetuating: it can be threatened by those who fear freedom and are willing to
impose their own vision of things with violence. What response is required for such a threat?
It will be necessary to defend this space with all the legal and political means possible,
starting from dialogue with the Arab nations disposed to impede a disaster that would hurt
them as well, and to build a juridical framework that guarantees authentic religious freedom
for all. But this is not enough, and the reason is obvious. Those who carried out the massacre
in Paris did not come from abroad; they were second generation immigrants, born in Europe,
educated and formed as European citizens, as a great many others who have long dwelt in our
countries. It is a phenomenon in fieri, in virtue of the constant flows of migration and the
demographic growth of the populations who reach here from all parts of the world, driven by
hardship and poverty.
For this reason, the problem is primarily within Europe and the most important part is
played here at home. The true challenge is cultural, its terrain daily life. When those who
abandon their homelands arrive here in search of a better life, when their children are born
and become adults in the West, what do they see? Can they find something able to attract their
humanity, to challenge their reason and their freedom? The same problem exists for our
children: do we have something to offer them that speaks to their search for fulfilment and
meaning? In many young people who have grown up in the so-called Western world there
reigns a great nothingness, a profound void that constitutes the origin of the desperation that
ends up in violence. Just think of the Europeans who go to fight in the ranks of terroristic
formations, or of the lost and disoriented life of many young people of our cities. This
corrosive void, this far-spreading nothingness, requires a response.
In front of the events of Paris it is sterile to mount opposition in the name of an idea,
no matter how right it may be. We have learned after a long journey that the only way to truth
is through freedom. Therefore, we have decided to reject the violence that has marked
moments of our past. Today none of us nurtures the dream of responding to the challenge of
the other with the imposition of a truth, whatever it may be. For us, Europe is a space of
freedom; this does not mean an empty space, void of proposals for life, because nothing can
live off of nothingness. Nobody can stand, have a constructive relationship with reality,
without something that makes life worth living, without a hypothesis of meaning.
So then, this is the true element that will decide the future of Europe: whether she will
finally be the place of a real encounter between proposals of meaning, different and numerous
as they may be, as happened for centuries in some countries of the Middle East where
different cultures and religions were able to live in peace, but now where Christians are forced
to abandon their homeland because the situation has made their life impossible. In this way,
however, the problem is not resolved, only shifted aside.
Now the verification for Europe begins. Space for freedom means space for saying in
front of everyone, individually or together, who we are. Each makes available for everyone
their vision and their way of living. This sharing will enable us to encounter each other on the
basis of the real experience of each person, and not on ideological stereotypes that make
dialogue impossible. As Pope Francis said, “Dialogue begins with encounter. The first
knowledge of the other is born from it. Indeed, if one begins from the premise of the common
affiliation in human nature, one can go beyond prejudices and fallacies and begin to
understand the other according to a new perspective.”
This historical situation offers an exceptional opportunity to everyone, Christians
included. Europe can constitute a great space for us, space for the testimony of a changed life,
full of meaning, capable of embracing that which is different and of awakening its humanity
with gestures rich in generosity.
Inviting all Christians to nurture the desire for testimony, Pope Francis underlined that
“in this way alone can the liberating message of the love of God and the salvation that Christ
offers be proposed in its strength, beauty and simplicity. One can only move forward in this
way, with an attitude of respect for people.” Do we Christians still believe in the capacity of
the faith we have received to attract those we encounter, and in the living fascination of its
disarming beauty?

President of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation

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