By Cindy Wooden
STRASBOURG, France (CNS) — The 77-year-old grandson of European immigrants to Argentina, Pope Francis urged the European Parliament to value the continent’s faiths and recuperate a sense of responsibility for the common good to rejuvenate Europe’s social, political and economic life.
“In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant,” he said Nov. 25. In too many cases, he said, the Judeo-Christian values and the humanist ideals that inspired the continental drive toward unity seem to have been replaced by “the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”
Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years, was scheduled to spend less than four hours in Strasbourg visiting only the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. It was the shortest foreign papal trip ever and the first that did not feature at least one visit to a church.
Because it was organized strictly as a visit to the European institutions, the pope traveled to and from the airport in a closed car, not the popemobile. Along the route from the airport, scattered groups of a few people waited at the intersections with smartphones or cameras in their hands. There were plenty of French police lining the route, but the only significant groups of bystanders were at the tram stops.
Instead of making a pastoral visit, Pope Francis went to the heart of European unity and bureaucracy: the European Parliament, the legislative arm of the 28-member European Union; and the Council of Europe, an organization of 47 countries formed to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the continent.
A few parliamentarians objected to the pope’s visit, saying it violated the separation of church and state. But Martin Schulz, the parliament’s president, told the pope his words “carry enormous weight not only because you are the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion believers. Your words carry enormous weight because they speak to everyone” and because “the issues you raise concern everyone.”
“Your words,” he told the pope, “provide counsel and direction in times of confusion.”
The only other pope to visit the European Parliament was St. John Paul II in 1988, a year before the Berlin Wall fell and marked the beginning of the end of a Europe divided into democratic West and communist East.
Despite the expansion of democracy and the incorporation of more countries into the European Union, Pope Francis told the parliament, “Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.”
But strength is needed, he said, to defend the democracy dreamt of for so long. The continent’s democracies, the pope said, “must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal, which weaken them and turn them into uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.”
Giving new life to the European project, he said, “depends on the recovery of the vital connection” between transcendent values and attention to the talents of Europe’s peoples and their concrete needs. “A Europe that 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.”
European Union discussions are filled with references to human rights, but, the pope said, the idea of duties that go along with rights seem to be largely absent. “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.”
Even worse, he said, the most basic right — the right to life — is denied to many, including the unborn, the terminally ill and the elderly. “There are still too many situations in which human beings are treated as objects whose conception, configuration and utility can be programmed and who can then be discarded when no longer useful due to weakness, illness or old age.”
The selfish live with “an opulence” that is not sustainable and is indifferent to others, particularly the poor, he said. Economic, trade and employment policies seem dictated by technical and financial considerations to such an extent that “men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine.”
In addition, he said, too many of Europe’s citizens face active discouragement from expressing their religious convictions, too many of them go hungry and even more “lack the work which confers dignity.”
The original inspiration for European unity was the “transcendent dignity” of the human person, a dignity that endowed each person with inalienable rights, which could be respected most fully in a democracy, in peace and with special concern to help the weakest members of the community and the world, the pope said.
In the parliamentary chambers he also denounced “the many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities, and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world.” He urged attention to the plight of those facing “barbaric acts of violence” because of their faith. “They are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive under the shameful ad complicit silence of so many.”
Christianity, he told the parliamentarians, not only helped forge the Europe of history, but it continues to offer values and services, particularly in education, that can provide a firm foundation for a renewed future.
Protection of the environment, an agriculture policy that respects farmers and the land, improving employment rates and handling migration are particularly urgent, concrete problems that require a response honoring the transcendent dignity of the human person and recognizing the realities of this world, he said.
As the Italian government continues to decry a lack of European Union solidarity and assistance with the thousands of migrants who cross the Mediterranean seeking freedom and a better life in Europe, the pope insisted the response to migration must be continent-wide.
“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said, referring to the thousands who have drowned trying to cross from northern Africa on rickety boats.
Pope Francis insisted: “The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values.”
Pope says he would ‘never close the door’ on talks with Islamic State
By Cindy Wooden
ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM STRASBOURG, France (CNS) — Pope Francis said he would “never close the door” on dialogue with the Islamic State in an effort to bring peace to a region of the world suffering from violence and persecution.
He also said that “terrorism” could describe not only the actions of such extremist groups but also those of some national governments using military force unilaterally.
Meeting reporters Nov. 25 on his return flight from Strasbourg where he addressed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, Pope Francis said terrorism is a threat the world must take seriously.
Specifically asked if he thought there was even the most remote possibility of dialoguing with terrorists like those from the Islamic State, Pope Francis said, “I never count anything as lost. Never. Never close the door. It’s difficult, you could say almost impossible, but the door is always open.”
But Pope Francis also told journalists that the threat of terrorism is not the only horror weighing on the world.
“Slavery is a reality inserted in the social fabric today, and has been for some time: slave labor, the trafficking of persons, the sale of children — it’s a drama. Let’s not close our eyes to this. Slavery is a reality today, the exploitation of persons,” he explained.
“But there is another threat, too,” he said, the threat of “state terrorism,” when tensions rise and an individual nation decides on its own to strike, feeling it has “the right to massacre terrorists and with the terrorists many innocent people fall.”
Nations have a right and duty to stop “unjust aggressors,” he said, but they must act in concert and in accordance with international law.
A Spanish reporter asked Pope Francis about a man from Granada, Spain, who wrote to the pope about a priest who sexually abused him. The correspondence set off a widespread police investigation, the arrest of three priests and a layman, and the suspension of several priests by the Archdiocese of Granada in November.
The pope said he received the letter. “I read it and I phoned the person and I told him, ‘Go to the bishop tomorrow,’ and I wrote to the bishop and told him to get to work, conduct an investigation,” he said.
Pope Francis said he had read the letter “with great pain, the greatest pain, but the truth is the truth and we must not hide it.”
Another journalist asked the pope about his remarks at the Council of Europe that in audiences at the Vatican he has noticed differences between young politicians and their older peers. “They speak with a different music,” the pope told reporters. No matter what countries or which political parties they belong, the young seem “to not have fear of going out of their own group to dialogue. They are courageous. And we must imitate this.”
“This going out in order to find and dialogue with others — Europe needs this today,” he added.
Another reporter told the pope that his remarks at the European Parliament on employment, the dignity of human life and the role of the state in helping citizens made it seem like the pope could be a card-carrying member of the Social Democrat Party.
“I don’t want to label myself on one side or another,” the pope said, and, besides, “this is the Gospel.”
While many reporters and pundits have tried to pigeon-hole the pope’s politics, he said, “I have never distanced myself from the social teaching of the church.”
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