Robert Schuman, a visionary in the heart of Europe

Priest Bernard Ardura, promoter of the Robert Schuman cause, speaks exclusively to Omnes about the canonization process of one of the founding fathers of the EU.

Concepción Lozano-October 8, 2021-Reading time: 5 minutes

Photo: Robert Schuman in 1953

Pope Francis opens the process for the beatification of Robert Schuman by authorizing the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decree recognizing his "heroic virtues.

"Europe needs a soul, an ideal and the political will to achieve it". With these words of Robert Schuman, Ursula Von del Leyen, President of the European Commission, began her speech to the plenary session of the European Parliament in what was her second debate on the state of the Union on September 15. An ideal that, although the first founding fathers of the community project were clear about, seems to have been diluted, if not erased, over the years.

Robert Schuman60 years ago, the French Foreign Minister proposed the joint management of coal and steel production with Germany (Declaration of May 9, 1950). Precisely the two materials that had served to fuel the arms industry that caused so much damage in the two great world wars.  

"Europe must cease to be a battlefield where rival forces bleed to death. On the basis of this realization, which we paid so dearly for, we want to go down new paths that will lead us to a united and definitively pacified Europe," said Robert Schuman, in a speech that is considered vital for the reconciliation of the two great powers at loggerheads.

Supported by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, a partner in whom he found the same ideal of peace and solidarity, both knew how to seize a historic moment to create, as they themselves said, a "community of action and thought", the embryo of today's European Union.

Peace, reconciliation, understanding, dialogue, the pillars on which this visionary, ahead of his time, wanted to build a community that would go beyond economic and political interests.

A saint dressed in a suit

"Trained in his youth in neo-Thomism and the social doctrine of the Church espoused by Leo XIII, he saw his role in politics as a service to society. He said that we are all 'imperfect instruments in the hands of Providence'.

 He always tried to do good, and to discern God's will in the difficult historical moments he lived through, such as Nazism and the Second World War," says Victoria Martín, author of the book "The Good News". Europe a step into the unknown

"Faith inspired his whole life and his relationship with others. He did not make politics out of religion. Unlike other French Catholic politicians of his time, Schuman was not a traditionalist, but thought that democracy and the principles of the French Revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity) are rooted in the Gospel, following his favorite philosopher, who was also his friend: Jacques Maritain.

What did Robert Schuman really do that the Pope has opened his canonization process?

The first thing to say is that behind his cause is the St. Benoit Institute, a partnership created by Schuman's friends and neighbors in Metz when he died. One of the people who know him best is Father Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Council for Historical Sciences and postulator of Schuman's cause.

"His whole life has been marked by the sign of the common good. It is an exercise of charity. He even demonstrated it when he renounced his vocation as a religious to devote himself to society, to people in a particularly difficult and convulsive period from the point of view of history.

Unlike other French Catholic politicians of his time, Schuman believed that democracy and the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are rooted in the Gospel.

Concepción Lozano

In one of the letters written to his best friend, collected in the aforementioned book by Victoria Martin Henri Eschbach, Robert Schuman comes clean and tells him of his plans to withdraw from the world and dedicate himself to prayer in a monastery. However, his friend answers him with clear and accurate words that will mark the course of his life and spirit: "I dare to add that my opinion (about his idea of becoming a religious) is very different. Because in our society the lay apostolate is urgently needed and I cannot imagine a better apostle than you, in all sincerity... you will remain a layman because it will be easier for you to do good, which is your only concern. I am categorical, am I not? I think I can see to the bottom of some hearts and it seems to me that the saints of the future will be saints dressed in suits".

Eschbach was not wrong, Robert Schuman will arrive at the altars dressed in his unmistakable dark suit and wide-brimmed hat, typical of the time.

He was a man who did not flaunt his convictions, his character was not demonstrative, he was rather a shy person, discreet, but it is perceived by his way of living that he lived by his faith, Ardura continues. "There is a perfect coherence between his Christian convictions and his life".

For his postulator, Robert Schuman builds the whole European project on the foundations of forgiveness and solidarity. A constitutive element of the European Union, at least in its origins.

Over time, some of the main foundations of the EU have been diluted. It would be necessary to return to the origins, to the roots, to the initial project based on solidarity among all member states. Only by living solidarity, we will avoid war.

Europe as a united society

Tomb of R. Schuman in the Church of St. Quintin next to the European flags

Schuman was not only the inspiration and fundamental actor in the creation of the European Union, but his political career and his relationship with the main European leaders of the time marked the future. There are few political figures who leave their mark in the way that Robert Schuman has done. His legacy and his memory are today essential to understand, not only the past, but also the present of a continent that I do not know if it resembles what he had imagined.

In any case, he did not hesitate to put his ideas, his convictions at the service of a giant project which, despite the difficulties, developed into a community of 27 different states whose political leaders, far from waging war, sit around a table to dialogue, negotiate and take common decisions that affect more than 500 million people.

Schuman has already warned those who believe that Europe is in crisis, or will not survive in the face of the disparity of European governments, each with its national interests often contrary to the European good: "Europe will not be made all at once or in an overall work: it will be made thanks to concrete achievements, creating above all a de facto solidarity".

Bernard Ardura explains that all that is missing now is a miracle. Robert Schuman has been declared venerable for his heroic virtues, but now all that is needed is a miracle through his intercession so that this French politician, whose ideals have endured to the present day and who was consistent with his faith until his death, can finally reach the altars.

The authorConcepción Lozano

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