Report: Emer McCarthy, Vatican Radio
Pope Francis called on a “haggard” and “lonely” Europe to recover its role as a world protagonist, its identity as a defender of the transcendent dignity of man, the poor, the migrant, the persecuted, the old and the young, to recover its soul: Christianity.
In a lengthy address – the first of two on his one day visit to the heart of Europe – he told members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg that a two-thousand-year-old history links Europe and Christianity, “not free of conflicts or errors, but driven by the desire to work for the good of all”. This “is our present and our future. It is our identity”, he said
The Pope also urged Europe’s 500 million citizens to see the Union’s problems – economic stagnation, unemployment, immigration, rising poverty levels and a growing polarization – as a “force for unity” to overcome fears and mutual mistrust.
“Dignity” he said was the pivotal concept in the process of rebuilding which followed the Second World War and led to the European project. Today it remains central to the commitment of the European Union. But Pope Francis warned, often the concept of human rights is misunderstood and misused.
He pointed to tendency to uphold the rights of the individual, “without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself”.
Transcendent human dignity, the Pope continued, means regarding human beings not as absolutes, but as beings in relation. He spoke of a Europe rampant with the disease of loneliness a direct result of the trend towards individualism. He said the economic crisis has worsened this pervasive loneliness and nourished a growing mistrust in people towards institutions considered aloof and bureaucratic.
The Pope spoke of the unsustainable opulence of selfish lifestyles amid indifference to the poorest of the poor, where technical and economic questions dominate political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings.
This, the Pope noted, reduces human life to being a “cog in a machine” which, if no longer useful, can be “discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb”. This – Pope Francis said quoting Benedict XVI – is the great mistake made “when technology is allowed to take over”; the result is a confusion between ends and means”.
The future of Europe, added Pope Francis, depends on the recovery of the vital connection between openness to God and the practical and concrete ability to confront situations and problems.
The Pope said Christianity is not a threat to secular Europe but rather an enrichment. He said religions can help Europe counter “many forms of extremism” spreading today that are often “a result of the great vacuum of ideals which we are currently witnessing in the West”.
Here he decried the “shameful and complicit silence” of many while religious minorities are being “evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive”.
Pope Francis went on to observe that the motto of the European Union is United in Diversity, but unity, does not mean uniformity. Keeping democracy alive in Europe means avoiding the many globalizing tendencies to dilute reality.
Keeping democracies alive is a challenge in the present historic moment, he continued, but it must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal. It means nurturing the gifts of each man and woman; investing in families, the fundamental cell and most precious element of any society; in educational institutes; in young people today who are asking for a suitable and complete education to help them to look to the future with hope instead of disenchantment.
In areas such as the ecology Europe has always been in the vanguard, the Pope said, while noting that today “millions of people around the world are dying of hunger while tons of food are discarded each day from our tables”.
He also spoke of the need to promote policies that create employment, but above all “restore dignity to labour by ensuring proper working conditions” while avoiding the exploitation of workers and ensuring “their ability to create a family and educate their children”.
On the issue of migration Pope Francis called for a united response decrying the lack of a coordinated EU wide effort to adopt policies that assist migrants in their countries of origin and that promote a just and realistic integration: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!” he decried to lengthy applause.
Pope Francis concluded:
“The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well. A Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for, defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity!