Pope urges Europe to rediscover religious roots

28 November 2014

POPE FRANCIS has warned that peace in Europe is "all too often . . . violated" as "conflicts of various sorts continue to fester."

He made his comments on Tuesday afternoon during a speech to the Council of Europe (COE), an international body of 47 countries, including the 28 EU members and a number of eastern European countries such as Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

"How great a toll of suffering and death is still being exacted on this continent, which yearns for peace, yet so easily falls back into the temptations of the past!"

He said: "Peace is also put to the test by other forms of conflict, such as religious and international terrorism, which displays deep disdain for human life and indiscriminately reaps innocent victims."

Peace was also violated, he said, by a "frequently unchecked traffic in weapons" and by "trafficking in human beings, the new slavery of our age, which turns persons into merchandise for trade and deprives its victims of dignity."

He warned that conflict "cannot be ignored or concealed", but that "if it paralyses us, we lose perspective, our horizons shrink, and we grasp only a part of reality."

The Pope praised the work of the European Court of Human Rights as representing "the conscience of Europe", which, he hoped, "will continue to mature, not through a simple consensus between parties, but as the result of efforts to build on those deep roots which are the bases on which founders of contemporary Europe determined to build".

But he also had some questions for Europe: "Where is your vigour? Where is that idealism which inspired and ennobled your history? Where is your spirit of curiosity and enterprise? Where is your thirst for truth, a thirst which hitherto you have passionately shared with the world?

"The future of the continent will depend on the answer to these questions," he said.

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Earlier, Pope Francis visited the European Parliament and spoke "as a pastor" to MEPs from the 28 EU member nations, "to offer a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe".

He told them that Europe gave the impression of being "no longer fertile and vibrant. . . The great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions."

The Pope suggested that European institutions were often seen as "aloof" and "engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful".

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".

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".

Praising the EU's commitment to promoting human rights, he warned nevertheless: "Today, there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights, and, I am tempted to say, individualistic rights."

The concept of duty had been divorced from the concept of rights, he said. so that "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."

He urged Europe to rediscover its religious roots: "A Europe which is capable of appreciating its religious roots and of grasping their fruitfulness and potential," he said, "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 currently exists in the West."

And he 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 president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz MEP, described the Pope as "a person who gives guidance at a time when we have lost our compass".

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