The Personalist Project

Accessed on March 30, 2020 - 8:48:23

The Banks and Beauty Parlors of Grandma Europe

Devra Torres, Dec 11, 2016

I want to call your attention to a strikingly candid (but little-noted) address that Pope Francis gave to a plenary assembly of the council of the bishops' conferences of Europe back on Oct. 3rd.


Do read the whole thing here. As Sandro Magister explains, this is not the prepared text: he distributed that but then said this:

What is happening today in Europe? What is going on in the heart of our mother Europe? Is she still our mother Europe, or grandma Europe? Is she still fertile? Has she fallen into sterility? Is she unable to give new life? 

...for one thing, this Europe has committed a few sins. We must say this with love: it has not wanted to recognize one of its roots. And because of this it feels and does not feel Christian. Or it feels Christian somewhat in secret, but doesn't want to recognize it, this European root.

The subject of Europe's unacknowledged Christian roots reminded me of “The Bearable Lightness of Dignity,” an old First Things article by Mary Ann Glendon.


She talks about what happens when Europe—and the West in general—wants to keep acting as if “human dignity” is something we all agree upon as a bedrock principle, while rejecting the Judeo-Christian roots it came from. 

Jacques Maritain was actively involved in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--founded on the idea of human dignity, which seemed self-evident enough when the Nazis' so-recent violation of it enjoyed such universal condemnation. But he saw that it was being affirmed by people who had no coherent reason for that affirmation, and that sooner or later this incoherence was bound to come to light.


It was like imagining you can keep living in a building from which the foundation has been removed, expecting it to stay poised in midair as you go about business as usual.


This, it seems, is where we are now. What do you get when a society has cut itself off from its own roots and is still groping around to patch together something else to live for instead?

Pope Francis' remarks illustrate just what it looks like:

Europe is wounded. … Wounded by all the trials it has undergone. It has gone from the time of prosperity, of great well-being, to a worrying crisis in which young people too are discarded.

…there is the danger that the children of mother, today practically grandma Europe, are losing their dignity because they do not have jobs and cannot bring bread home. Europe has discarded its children. A bit triumphantly. I remember that when I was studying in one country the clinics that did abortions then prepared everything to send it to cosmetic factories. Makeup made with the blood of innocents. And this was something to brag about, because it was progressive: the rights of the woman, the woman has the right over her body.

Then at the other end of life, what happens?


And the elderly—I've said this about Latin America, about my country, but I believe it's a universal problem or of many countries or some other continents—the elderly are discarded with stealth euthanasia. The social services cover medical treatment up to a certain point, and then you're on your own!

He speaks of “a Europe weary with disorientation.”

And I don't want to be a pessimist, but let's tell the truth: after food, clothing, and medicine, what are the most important expenditures? Cosmetics, and I don't know how to say this in Italian, but the mascotas [pets], the little animals. They don't have children, but their affection goes to the little cat, to the little dog.


And this is the second expenditure after the three main ones. The third is the whole industry to promote sexual pleasure. So it’s food, medicine, clothing, cosmetics, little animals, and the life of pleasure. Our young people feel this, they see this, they live this.

This immediately rang true for me.

I lived in Rome for a year, one small village in Liechtenstein for three, and Spain for ten. So my "evidence" is purely anecdotal. But I remember riding the bus one day in a suburb of Barcelona. At 37, I was clearly the youngest person there.  That was a little disconcerting, and then I looked out the window. Nothing but banks and beauty parlors. Bank after bank after bank, and those dead-serious salons full of aestheticians who don’t just cut hair but retool the appearance in every way that creams and chemicals and minor elective surgeries can offer.


And something else, something very odd: pet stores without the pets. There were high-end pet accessories, pet status symbols, things for your “little animal” which no animal would take the least interest in but which would proclaim the owner’s taste and social standing.


It sounds like Pope Francis is seeing the same thing. I just kept riding the bus with an ill-defined sense of unease. But he at least proposes a solution:

It's like a sickness that Europe has today. A wound. And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots!