06 May 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pope lambasts weary and ageing Europe as he picks up prestigious Charlemagne Prize
Original dream of Europe 'is fading' due to self interest and entrenched attitudes, Francis warns gathered leaders
Pope Francis has challenged European leaders to build a new future for the continent where migrants are welcomed and birth rates are greater than material consumption. In a speech in front of European Union Leaders including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Francis once again compared Europe to a “grandmother” which had become weary, ageing and was no longer fertile.
“There is the impression that Europe is declining, that it has lost its ability to be innovative and creative” the Pope said in an address delivered on Friday in the Vatican’s Sala Regia hall, in front of a number of European leaders including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after he had been awarded the prestigious Charlemagne Prize. He went on: “What has happened to you, Europe, mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”
Francis warned that the original dream of Europe was fading due to selfish interests and entrenched attitudes and he called for it instead to become a “mother” which gives young people a future, welcomes outsiders and is engaged in dialogue with other cultures. “I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of every human being,” the Pope said. “I dream of a Europe of families, with truly effective policies concentrated on faces rather than numbers, on birth rates rather than rates of consumption.”
Founded in 1950 in the German city of Aachen, the Charlemagne Prize is given annually to those who demonstrate an outstanding contribution to European unity and previous winners include Sir Winston Churchill, Tony Blair and John Paul II who was given an “extraordinary” version of the award in 2004. The board of directors said they had chosen Francis this year as a result of his messages of “peace and understanding, compassion, tolerance, solidarity and safeguarding of creation.”
Before receiving the prize the Pope saw Chancellor Merkel, the “de facto” leader of the European Union, in a private audience which marks her third meeting with Francis. European leaders, Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk were also present at the award giving ceremony and each spoke praising the Latin American Pope for his leadership, particularly on the migrant crisis.
Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said that by bringing back a dozen Syrians from the Greek island of Lesbos Francis had showed up those governments “who are refusing to accept Muslim refugees on the grounds that their country is Christian.”
In his address the Pope explained that he wanted Europe to look beyond the “present borders of the union” and to welcome newcomers who are looking for “acceptance because they have lost everything”. He stressed that the continent needed to build a social economy that puts people first by offering employment opportunities - particularly to young people - and decent housing.
Throughout his papacy the Pope has called on Europe’s leaders to find a better response to the unprecedented number of new arrivals from places such as Syria and North Africa while being critical of the continent’s low birth rate saying that couples who refuse to have children are being selfish. Francis has also shied away from visiting the European powerhouses of France, Germany and Spain preferring instead to visit places on the margins such as Turkey, Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This summer he will travel to Krakow in Poland for World Youth Day in a visit that will include him going to Auschwitz.
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