CONTINENTAL racism is rampant. The recent surge of immigration (from places as disparate as the former Yugoslavia and Somalia) that has washed over Germany, France and Italy has left citizens drenched in resentment against foreigners who claim a right to food, jobs and shelter.
While economies stagger under the weight of these new demands, the politicos of yesteryear are tottering as power vacuums form at the top of national political pyramids: lacklustre parties, unsuccessful policies, scandals unveiledthe elements for governmental demoralisation are manifold, especially when compounded by sluggish or recession-hit economies. Weimar II is in the making, with a European cast of millions, a script based on Mein Kampf, , an evocative mood of malaise, and as theme music the dulcet notes of Mussolini's hymn, "Giovinezza".
As the number of mouths to feed, and of jobless in the queue, grows, disaffection and anxiety is once again being channelled into prejudices and a search for scapegoats. Swastikas and Stars of David, xenophobic graffitti and broken windows blot once again subways and suburbs from Reims to Rome, while talk of pogroms and ethnic cleansing surface in trattorie and beerhalls.
In France, the neo-fascist National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen has been propelled to centre stage, and a French woman was let off after killling an Arab youth in Reims. In northern Italy, deep-rooted regional racism against the terroni of the South who come North in search of work is now entwined with resentment against the influx from Albania, Somalia and Northern Africa. The neo-fascist leagues control three of the wealthiest towns in the north and their popularity continues to spread, as illustrated in outbreaks of vandalism in Rome's Jewish district last month.
Most worrying of all is the mood of resentment now endemic in Germany, where the recent arson attack on a Turkish community left three dead, and neo-fascist groups have won state representation in Bremen and Schleswig Holstein. As the strains of unification threaten to crack the economic superstructure that emerged from the post-war economic miracle, a nation that thought it had buried its Nazi past is now standing face to face with goose-stepping ghosts.
Before fear gives way to panic, before broken windows give way to broken bodies, the Church must intervene. Catholic hierarchies across the continent must step into the present moral vaccuum and fill it with righteous leadership, casting the searchlight of faith into the darkest recesses of the popular soul, to reveal and denounce its prejudices. The Pope and his bishops face a golden opportunity to lead the fight against right-wing fanaticism and to blow the whistle on jingoist abuse in speech and actions.
The Church must use its weapon of loving evangelisation to pierce the defensive shield of xenophobia. Ours is a universal Church and herein lies our strength and our appeal. We must enjoin all those about us that acceptance, and then assimilation, of foreigners who seek refuge in our midst, does not lead to famine and poverty but rather to a national renewal, to an increase in potential, and to a richness in thought and action that brought about the greatness of empires from the Roman to the American.
The Church must protect the immigrant worker, the homeless refugee and the "outsider" from the fears of those who know no better. We must convince those around us that an all-embracing community enjoys the hest place in the sun.