The wildfire at Fort McMurray in Alberta made news worldwide this past week. The city of 80,000 and several neighbouring towns were forced to evacuate, and quickly. Damage will run into the billions of dollars, it is estimated; life has been changed forever.
Just a year ago, life looked good. Fort McMurray is at the heart of Alberta oil country. The future looked rosy. Fort McMurray was a destination, especially for people from the east looking for work.
Then the price of oil dropped. Jobs were cut. Suddenly, in the space of a week Mother Nature erupted in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable manner. Fire razed sections of the city and citizen were forced to flee. Many were able to take nothing with them. Highways north and south of the city were jammed with traffic.
But the disaster also brought out the best in people. TV newscasts showed people visiting cars stuck on the highway asking if the those inside needed a fill-up of gas or if they needed food and water. It must have been a welcome gift for those feeling the panic of destroyed homes and forced flight. People and institutions also reached out to offer free lodging to strangers. And groups across the country have mobilized to raise money and goods to replace what the residents have lost.
This disaster will rank high, if not highest, in the roster of disasters Canada has suffered. It’s a reminder that we are not as independent and in control as we like to think. It’s also a reminder how fortunate we are to have resources available to us and how life is enriched by the generosity of our neighbours.
Europeans like Pope Francis. On May 6 he was awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize.
The award is traditionally conferred on the feast of the Ascension in the German city of Aachen. It is presented by the citizens of Aachen to commemorate Charlemagne — the first Holy Roman Emperor — and to honour a public figure for his or her commitment in promoting European unity.
In a break with tradition, the ceremony was held not in Aachen but at the Vatican. Among the distinguished European leaders who came to Rome to honour the pope were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, King Felipe VI of Spain, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, as well as the heads of the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission — three men who were also past laureates of the prize.
The mayor of Aachen, Marcel Phillip, told those assembled that “Pope Francis is a godsend for Europe.”
His perspective as a South American whose relatives were Italian immigrants, and as leader of the Catholic Church, lets him see “clearly through the veil of affluence just how warped and ensnared in contradictions our continent is,” the mayor said.
Europe has lost its bearings and “the values that we urgently need to rediscover and strengthen are essentially Christian values,” Phillip said.
In a speech reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech, Pope Francis delivered his own “dream” speech — a dream of a divided Europe coming together to protect the rights of everyone, especially families and migrants.
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime, but a summons to greater commitment” to help those in need, he said, “I dream of a Europe where young people” can lead a simple life and see that marriage and children are a joy, not a burden because there are no stable, well-paying jobs.
“I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life,” he added. He dreamt of a new “European humanism,” involving “a constant work of humanization” and calls for “memory, courage, (and) a sound and humane utopian vision.”
His 30-minute talk also contained some admonitions and calls to greatness.
“What has happened to you?” he repeated three times. What has happened, he asked, to the glorious Europe of the past: the champion of human rights, the home of artists, the mother of heroes who upheld “and even sacrificed their lives for the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”
He called for the recollection of and courageous return to the bold ideals of the founding fathers of a united Europe — those who were committed to “alternative and innovative paths in a world scarred by war.”
“They dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction. They dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems,” he said.
Europe needs not just political, economic and military coalitions, he said, but also alliances built on cultural, religious and educational ideals and visions. The Catholic Church can be an important partner for this, he said.
Pope Francis shared his dream of a renewed Europe. The wisdom of the ages says: What we dream alone remains a dream. What we dream with others can become a reality.