On Tuesday, Pope Francis addressed the European parliament in Strasbourg, on the border between France and Germany, and blasted policies on immigration and decried the decaying state of the continent. It was the first papal address to the parliament in 26 years.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II addressed the European parliament and called Europe a beacon of civilization while being heckled as the Antichrist. 26 years later, Pope Francis addressed the parliament and called Europe “elderly and haggard.” Afterwards, he received a two-minute standing ovation. It’s amazing how the times have changed.
The Pope’s speech stressed the need to fix Europe’s immigration system, saying, “we cannot allow the Mediterranean Sea to become a vast cemetery.” He was referring to the thousands of immigrants who drown trying to get across the Mediterranean from North Africa. According to the Financial Times, Pope Francis made a special visit to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, a popular migrant landing point.
The European Union has been fighting over how best to handle rising illegal immigration and who should bear the costs of rescuing immigrants. Pope Francis described the infighting as encouraging less than adequate solutions.
“The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging… solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labour and continuing social tensions.”
According to the BBC, the Pope’s speech comes as Greek authorities are trying to rescue a cargo ship where an estimated 500 migrants are imperiled.
Some of Pope Francis’ harshest words were used to describe Europe as in a state of decay, likening it to an elderly grandmother.
“We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe that is no longer fertile and vibrant,. The great ideas that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”
The Pope went on to discuss Europeans general distrust of the European bureaucracy. As the New York Times put it, the system is widely seen as “wasteful, elitist and self-serving.” The mistrust has led many to vote for far-right parties like France’s National Front party, which made significant gains in the May elections.
Pope Francis left the parliament after his 36 minute speech and two minute standing ovation. According to the Guardian, he gave the speech in Italian and spoke in English, French, and German without the help of translators.
His trip to Strasbourg was Pope Francis’ second trip to Europe outside of Italy in his 20 months as Pope, his first being a trip to Europe’s poorest country, Albania.
[Image Credit: Agência Brasil/Wikimedia Commons]