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Pope Francis offers compass bearing to ‘weary’ European Parliament

25 November 2014

by Gavin Drake in Strasbourg


Star power: Pope Francis addresses the European Parliament, on Tuesday

Star power: Pope Francis addresses the European Parliament, on Tuesday

THE POPE has called for a reinvigorated Europe to strengthen human dignity, during an address on Tuesday morning to MEPs and invited guests at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe gives the impression of being aged and weary, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion," Pope Francis told MEPs.

It was a theme he returned to during his 35-minute speech: "As the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.

"In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe which is now a grandmother, no longer fertile and lively. As a result, the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."

He said that this had combined with "certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us" to create a system in which people risked "being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that, as is so tragically apparent, whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is 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 before they are born."

Quoting the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, in Caritas in Veritate, he said that it was a great mistake "when technology is allowed to take over. . .

"The result is a confusion between ends and means. It is the inevitable consequence of a throwaway culture and an uncontrolled consumerism.

"Upholding the dignity of the person means instead acknowledging the value of human life, which is freely given us and hence cannot be an object of trade or commerce."

MEPs, he said, were "called to a great mission which may at times seem an impossible one: to tend to the needs of individuals and peoples."

The Pope described the EU's commitment to promoting human rights as a "praiseworthy commitment", but warned: "Today, there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights, and, I am tempted to say, individualistic rights. Underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological context, as if the person were a monad, increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding monads."

The concept of duty had been divorced from the concept of rights, he said. "As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld 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."

Using as an example Raphael's fresco of the School of Athens, with Plato's finger pointed to heaven and Aristotle holding his hand towards the viewer, the Pope said: "The future of Europe depends on the recovery of the vital connection between these two elements. A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that humanistic spirit which it still loves and defends."

He considered fundamental "not only the legacy that Christianity has offered in the past to the social and cultural formation of the continent, but, above all, the contribution which it desires to offer today."

This should not be seen as "a threat to the secularity of states or to the independence of the institutions of the European Union, but rather an enrichment," he said.

The Catholic Church, he said, was "ready . . . to engage in meaningful, open and transparent dialogue with the institutions of the European Union"; saying that "a Europe which is capable of appreciating its religious roots and of grasping their fruitfulness and potential, will be all the more able to resist the many forms of extremism spreading in the world today, not least as a result of the great vacuum of ideals which we are currently existing in the West.

He referred to the "many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities, and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world. Communities and individuals are today subjected to barbaric acts of violence; they are driven away from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive with the shameful and complicit silence of so many."

Pope Francis called for a "united response" to the problems caused by migration, particularly to the refugee crisis across North Africa (News, 14 November). "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery," he said. "The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to this problem, solutions which don't take into account the human dignity of immigrants and this contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions."

MEPs gave Pope Francis a 90-second standing ovation at the end of his speech. The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz MEP, thanked spoke of him as "a person who gives guidance at a time when we have lost our compass".

After his visit to the European Parliament, Pope Francis concluded his one-day visit to Strasbourg with a visit to the Council of Europe, before returning to the Vatican in the afternoon.



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