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20th May 2022

EU is 'aged and weary', pope says

  • The pope criticised the 'technical and economic questions dominating political debate' (Photo: European Parliament)

In a highly anticipated speech attended by almost all members of the European Parliament, pope Francis on Tuesday (25 November) criticised the EU's treatment of migrants, its institutions, and its focus on growth and consumerism.

“Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat aged and weary, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust, and even, at times, suspicion”, he said during his speech in Strasbourg.

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He likened the European continent to “a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant”.

Francis also signalled a “growing mistrust on the part of [EU] citizens towards institutions … engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual people, if not downright harmful.”

The pope told the audience, which also included the entire European Commission, EU president Herman Van Rompuy and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.

He criticised the “technical and economic questions dominating political debate” and called for a Europe “which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person”.

The leader of the Roman Catholic church also sharply criticised Europe's migration policy, something he had done on earlier occasions.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard”, Francis said, referring to the thousands who die each year trying to reach the EU.

He urged the EU to adopt “fair, courageous, and realistic policies which can assist the countries of origin in their own social and political development and in their efforts to resolve internal conflicts”.

It is first time that a pope visited the European Parliament in 26 years.

Amid strict security, parliament president Martin Schulz received pope Francis outside the parliament building in Strasbourg, while crowds of several hundred people cheered and clapped.

Inside the parliament, groups of people also stood waiting to catch a glimpse of him.

The pope turned out to be one of the few figures who can fill the plenary.

Just 40 minutes before his address, during a debate on employment, only around 70 of the 751 MEPs were at their seats. But by the time the pope spoke, it was a full house.

Many MEPs took the opportunity to photograph the famous religious leader with their phones and tablets.

Some of them even made self-portraits, so-called selfies with the pope in the background.

The pope touched on a range of issues, from the potential “of alternative sources of energy” and the responsibility to protect the environment, to the lack of value of human life, including “children who are killed before they are born”.

His emphasis on the importance of family life received applause from members of the largest group in the parliament, the conservative EPP.

His speech was not interrupted unlike the last time a pope - John Paul II - visited the European Parliament in 1988, when a northern Irish MEP at the time called him the Antichrist.

This time around, there was a more modest rainbow flag in the plenary.

The rainbow is a symbol for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, which the Catholic church is often criticised for not respecting.

The only other act of defiance was that a handful of MEPs did not clap at the end of the pope's address.

However, everyone did stand up.

In 2010, 46 percent of the respondents of an EU poll considered themselves Roma Catholic. This ranged from a high of 90 percent in Poland to just 1 percent in Finland and Sweden.

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