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Populism Facing Pre-Election Public Oppositions from European Catholic Clerics

The Catholic bishops from France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg y in opposition to nationalist populists

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FILE - A demonstrator holds a European flag during a protest in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, March 26, 2019. VOA

Catholic clerics in four northern European countries have taken the unprecedented step of urging their congregations to back pro-European Union parties in continent-wide elections later this month. The Catholic bishops from France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg have put themselves squarely in opposition to nationalist populists.

Praising the principle of solidarity and collaboration among nations, they warn that the EU is under threat.

The bishops urged Europeans to vote in the May 23-26 elections for the 751-seat EU parliament in a show of support for European unity and to promote “dialogue and integration between peoples.”

Analysts say this month’s election is possibly the most consequential since 1979, when Europeans first began casting ballots for a European parliament. The continent’s new breed of nationalist populists is eschewing pocketbook issues in campaigning and focusing on issues of national identity.

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FILE – Pope Francis greets faithful from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, April 21, 2019. VOA

The bishops’ statement added, “The EU is threatened today by various economic, political, demographic and ideological crises — but we are convinced it has tools to overcome them.” The Church leaders said, “Some seek to oppose the EU and resort back to independent nations. We are certain solidarity and collaboration between nations is the most fruitful response we can offer.”

Signatories to the appeal include Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, and a dozen other prelates. Hollerich told a German Catholic news agency, “Brexit, populism and nationalism” pose a threat to Europe.​

Populist parties

The appeal has drawn the ire of nationalist populists who accuse Church leaders of meddling in politics. It has become the latest flashpoint in a rhetorical battle between populists and church hierarchies in several European states.

Church leaders say they felt compelled to issue the appeal because of a surge in support for anti-establishment populists.

Populist parties, especially in Italy, Poland, Hungary and France, expect to make major gains in the elections. Pollsters are predicting euroskeptic populists will capture a third of the European parliament’s seats.

Pope Francis has spoken frequently against some aspects of the current surge in nationalist populism and recommenced instead a Christian populism. During an outdoor Mass last month, he told a crowd of 100,000 that “the only possible populism” is a Christian one that “listens to and serves the people without shouting, accusing, stirring up quarrels.”

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‘At war’ over migrants

The editor of L’Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, has accused Matteo Salvini, the firebrand leader of Italy’s far-right Lega party, of being “at war” with the Catholic Church over the treatment of migrants.

Marco Tarquinio’s accusation followed a new anti-migrant law that aims to deny undocumented migrants access to shelters. The law also doubles the time undocumented migrants can be detained, and eliminates humanitarian grounds for granting asylum to migrants unless they’re specifically fleeing political persecution or war.

“In Italy, the war against solidarity networks, large and small, is becoming more bitter and aggressive each day,” Tarquinio wrote in the editorial, in which he condemned what he called the Italian government’s “hostility” toward charitable organizations.

On Monday, a close aide to Pope Francis drew Salvini’s ire by climbing through a manhole to reconnect the electricity supply to an abandoned government-owned building occupied by hundreds of homeless people, including migrants and children. Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who distributes the Pope’s charity funds, broke a police seal to re-connect the electrical circuit.

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FILE – Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini takes a selfie with supporters in Corleone, Sicily, Italy April 25, 2019. VOA

Rome’s left-leaning Ia Repubblica newspaper dubbed Krajewski “The Pope’s Robin Hood.” The building had been without power since May 6, when the circuits were cut because of more than $300,000 in unpaid bills.

“Defending illegality is never a good sign,” Salvini told reporters. “There are many Italians and even legal immigrants who pay their bills, even if with difficulty. People can do what they please, but as interior minister, I guarantee the rules.”

Nationalist populists do have supporters among prelates, especially in central Europe. A former Polish secretary-general of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, Msgr. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, told the Catholic News Service recently that some “anti-establishment parties” had “sensible reform ideas,” and could be instrumental in encouraging EU institutions to adopt a “more conservative attitude to religion, family life and national identity.”(VOA)

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Hundreds of Mourners Gather to Commemorate Loss of yet another European Glacier

Dressed in mourning clothes, they hiked for hours in the Glarus Alps in eastern Switzerland to reach the remnants of the Pizol glacier

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People climb to the top of what once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Aug. 18, 2019. VOA

Hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday to commemorate the loss of yet another European glacier.

Dressed in mourning clothes, they hiked for hours in the Glarus Alps in eastern Switzerland to reach the remnants of the Pizol glacier at 2,600 meters above sea level.

The glacier has lost more than 80% of its volume since 2006.

“I have climbed up here countless times,” Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at ETH Zurich university, told the mourners. “It is like the dying of a good friend.”

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Hundreds of mourners gathered Sunday to commemorate the loss of yet another European glacier. Pixabay

Last month, About 100 people, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, held a similar ceremony for 700-year-old Okjokull, the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change.

“We can’t save the Pizol glacier anymore. … Let’s do everything we can, so that we can show our children and grandchildren a glacier here in Switzerland a hundred years from now,” Huss told the gathering.

His call came just two days after millions around the world went on a strike for climate change, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

The funeral was organized by the activist group Swiss Association for Climate Protection which has collected more than 100,000 signatures to launch an initiative demanding the country reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

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The Swiss government has voiced its support for the move. (VOA)