Pope Francis paid an indispensable visit to Strasbourg to visit the European Parliament and the Council of Europe on Tuesday, 25 November, to meet with politicians and deliver — as a Pastor, the Bishop of Rome was quick to specify — a message of hope and encouragement that they may be the first to minister to the needs of the continent. A continent which — commonly called “old” and bearing the marks of age, if only demographically — has been for some time exhibiting signs of weariness and pessimism.
To the representatives of Europe, the Pontiff, — true to the etymology of the term, “bridge builder”, who never tires of repeating the need for encounter, indeed for a culture of encounter — consigned two challenging and foresighted addresses. His words were thoughtful and careful to convey, above all, confidence in the “old continent”, the heir and custodian of an immense legacy of ideals. For this very reason, before the world, to fulfil its responsibility much is demanded from every person.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since the first visit of a pope to these European institutions, one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, marking the beginning of a time of great change and not for the continent alone. Since then the world has become less eurocentric and there is a more evident awareness of multipolarity. Alongside this challenge, the Pope approached that of transversality, which he said he had noticed— and he reminded journalists of this on the flight home — in the youngest politicians who represent hope for Europe.
Pope Francis, a man of listening and dialogue, is aware of the difficulties, aggravated today by a heavy and persistent economic crisis, but he knows that these must lead to unity if we are to overcome fear and anguish. Behind Europe’s current history is a century marked by two terrible wars that soaked the continent in blood. Today the world as a whole must address intolerance and the terrorism of fundamentalist groups, that hide behind religious pretexts but offend God and trample upon the human being.
The human person is at the very centre of Pope Francis’ two discourses which he delivered, and consigns to Europe. Accompanied by repeated applause, the Holy Father, with great precision, recalled Europe’s founding fathers and encouraged all to follow up their ideals. However, he also denounced certain weaknesses and tendencies that are not only found in Europe: from an individualism infected by loneliness to an increasingly senseless consumerism, from the dark dominion of financial power to the notorious trafficking of weapons and especially of human beings. These are the needs that must be addressed by parliament in the first place, and then by every citizen.
This also implies that the role and the responsibility of politics in the building of democracy is: to “create peace”; the road on which the Church, an “expert in humanity”, intends to offer her contribution, according to two expressions of Paul VI, which his Successor cited, also calling to mind an ancient text that graphically compares Christians to the soul in a body.
And so “the time has come,” Pope Francis said, “to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person”, definitively abandoning “the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership”, which by defending the person may be a “precious point of reference” for the whole human family.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 25, 2020
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