Saturday

27th Feb 2021

Pope Francis to EU: Migrants are not criminals

  • Pope Francis scolded EU leaders for seeking short-term political gains, rather than long-term visions (Photo: European Commission)

Pope Francis urged Europeans on Friday (6 May) to welcome migrants, tear down walls built to keep them out, and follow a socially more just economic policy.

Accepting the EU’s Charlemagne Prize in Rome for his contribution to European integration, the Argentinian pontiff asked in a powerful speech: “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?”

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In a clear message to European leaders in the audience, among them German chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the EU's Council, Commission, Parliament and central bank, the 79 year-old pope emphasised that Europe was struggling to live up to the vision of its founders.

Pope Francis praised the founders of European integration who “dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction … [and] dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems.”

He suggested that today’s leaders were interested in quick fixes and short-term political gains.

Quoting from Nobel laureate writer Elie Wiesel, he said Europe needed a "memory transfusion" to go back to the founders’ values.

“Their new and exciting desire to create unity seems to be fading. We, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there,” he said.

The fourth non-European to receive the Charlemagne Prize, the pope didn’t mince words when it came to criticising Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis.

He said Europe had always had a multicultural identity and that it required a culture of dialogue and the “respect [of] the foreigner, the immigrant and people from different cultures as worthy of being listened to.”

The pope said he dreamed of a Europe in which “being a migrant is not a crime.”

“Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls,” he said, referring to the fences and barriers Austria and Hungary have built since the migration influx started last year.

“Time is teaching us that it is not enough simply to settle individuals geographically: the challenge is that of a profound cultural integration,” he added.

Francis also called for a fairer, more inclusive economic system that enables young people to have a say in their future.

“If we want to rethink our society, we need to create dignified and well-paying jobs, especially for our young people,” he said.

He stressed that Europe needed to move towards a social economy that includes guarantees for the less well-off and serve the many, not the few.

Francis is the first Argentinean to receive the prize, founded in 1949. Past recipients include US president Bill Clinton, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, US general George C Marshall.

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