Pope Francis accepted the International Charlemagne Prize today, which is one of the most prestigious prizes that can be awarded in Europe. Francis graciously took the award at a private ceremony in the Vatican for his special services to Europe.
When awarding the prize, the chairman of the Charlemagne Prize Board, Jurgen Linden, spoke to some of the pope’s better character traits, particularly to his commitment to his religion and people as well as “for peace, understanding, and mercy.”
The pope’s acceptance of the award is unexpected, particularly from a religious leader who said he wasn’t interested in awards. This is one of the largest prizes a person can be rewarded, so the acceptance of such a major prize seems a little out of the ordinary.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t deserved. The pope may have seen it as an opportunity to address an audience he believed would listen to his sermon. After accepting the Charlemagne Prize, he gave an acceptance speech urging Europe’s citizens to do better in regards to peace across all borders.
In particular, he addressed the current situation with refugees. He rebuked listeners for failing to handle the refugee crisis with charity.
“Today, more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls,” Francis said, speaking of many nations’ intolerances towards refugees.
This is a hot topic in politics across borders, but the awarding of such a prestigious prize gave him the courage to speak out despite the backlash that was sure to come.
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” the 79-year-old religious leader added.
“Europe should be an open and multicultural society, welcoming refugees and helping young people start a family by offering adequate job opportunities,” Francis said.
Most notably, the pope addressed the need for unification across borders and cultures. He urged nations to recognize the importance of cross-cultural efforts if they wanted a future of peace rather than discord.
“If we want a dignified future, a future of peace for our societies, we will only be able to achieve it by working for genuine inclusion,” he told the gathered crowd.
He also explained that the Catholic religion must continue to play a key role in bringing charity and aid to the entire world, particularly Europe where the population of refugees is dense. He promised that unification would be the result of such efforts.
“To the rebirth of a Europe weary, yet still rich in energies and possibilities, the Church can and must play her part,” Pope Francis said. “Her task is one with her mission: the proclamation of the Gospel, which today more than ever finds expression in going forth to bind the wounds of humanity with the powerful yet simple presence of Jesus, and his mercy that consoles and encourages.”
The speech was moving, to say the least, and definitely worthy of a Charlemagne Prize winner.
The Charlemagne Prize has been annually given since 1950 and has always been awarded by the German city of Aachen. Most winners are chosen based on their efforts to improve unity in Europe.
Past winners include St. John Paul II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and former United States President Bill Clinton.
Pope Francis is the first Pope to accept the Charlemagne Prize.
[Photo by Getty Images Handout]