Bergoglio: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!” “The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.”
STRASBOURG, France — Bearding Europe’s populist lion in its den on Tuesday, Pope Francis told the European Parliament, an elected assembly with many anti-immigration nationalist members, that Europe had become too “fearful and self-absorbed,” and that it needed to recover its confidence and give “acceptance and assistance” to people fleeing war and poverty.
But the pope also embraced one of the favorite themes of populist politicians who are hostile to the European Union. He warned that the 28-nation bloc faced “growing mistrust on the part of citizens toward institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.”
Public discontent with the European Union’s bureaucracy, widely seen as wasteful, elitist and self-serving, helped propel France’s far-right National Front party and several other once-fringe nationalist groups to strong gains in May elections for the European Parliament. In France, the National Front came ahead of all other parties.
Complaining that Europe had lost its vitality and often seemed “elderly and haggard,” the pope took a swipe at technocrats who seek to draw together Europe through rigid rules and regulations, warning that “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”
The European Parliament, which meets in both this French city near the German border and the Belgian capital, Brussels, has become an emblem of the waste and detachment from ordinary people’s concerns that have drained support from the so-called European project, a half-century-long push for greater integration.
Francis, an Argentine who last year became the first non-European pope in more than a millennium, spent less than four hours in Strasbourg, the shortest foreign trip by a modern pope. After addressing the European Parliament, he spoke to the Council of Europe, a second European assembly based in Strasbourg with a palatial building, little authority and virtually no resonance with the general public.
The last time a pope addressed the European Parliament was in 1988, when Pope John Paul II faced heckling from Ian Paisley, a Protestant pastor and member of the assembly from Northern Ireland. Mr. Paisley accused the pope of being “the Antichrist,” and secularists denounced him over his insistent warnings that Europe faced ruin if it did not recover its Christian roots.
Pope Francis, by contrast, faced no such disruptions and instead stirred repeated rounds of applause from members of Parliament. He referred to Europe’s Christian past and the dangers of losing it but focused instead on current issues like poverty, immigration and joblessness.
John Thavis, an American writer on the Roman Catholic Church and author of “The Vatican Diaries,” said Pope Francis had a very different take on Europe than his two immediate predecessors, a Pole and a German, for whom “Europe was the center of the universe.”
Francis, he said, shared their concern about declining Christian faith among Europeans, but “his priorities do not include picking an ideological battle with secularists” as “he is more focused on the here and now.”
In his speech to the European Parliament, Francis received particularly loud applause with remarks that seemed to challenge a largely German-scripted economic policy rooted in austerity as the cure to Europe’s economic ills. “The time has come to promote policies which create employment, but above all, there is a need to restore dignity to labor by ensuring proper working conditions,” the pope said.
After his election as pontiff last year after the surprise retirement of Benedict XVI, Francis signaled his interest in the plight of the dispossessed by making his first trip outside Rome to the Italian island of Lampedusa, near where scores of immigrants have drowned while trying to reach Europe from Africa in flimsy boats. He denounced what he called the “globalization of indifference” to the suffering of immigrants and returned to the theme in Strasbourg.
Read more at the New York Times