With his typical blunt style, the Holy Father began his address by saying that in spite of being a larger and stronger Union, "Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion."
Theirs is a difficult job, he acknowledged. As members of Parliament, theirs is a great mission - which at times seems impossible - to tend to the needs of individuals and peoples.
"To tend to those in need takes strength and tenderness, effort and generosity in the midst of a functionalistic and privatized mindset which inexorably leads to a 'throwaway culture'. To care for individuals and peoples in need means protecting memory and hope; it means taking responsibility for the present with its situations of utter marginalization and anguish, and being capable of bestowing dignity upon it."
But what kind of dignity is there without being able to freely express thought or to profess religion, he asked, alluding to the many instances of the persecution of Christians who oppose "progressive" concepts such as same-sex marriage.
"What dignity can there be without a clear juridical framework which limits the rule of force and enables the rule of law to prevail over the power of tyranny? What dignity can men and women ever enjoy if they are subjected to all types of discrimination? . . . Promoting the dignity of the person means recognizing that he or she possesses inalienable rights which no one may take away arbitrarily, much less for the sake of economic interests."
He went on to speak about the "many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities, and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world. Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many."
The European Union can check this kind of extremism by living up to its motto, which is "United in Diversity".
"Unity, however, does not mean uniformity of political, economic and cultural life, or ways of thinking. Indeed, all authentic unity draws from the rich diversities which make it up: in this sense it is like a family, which is all the more united when each of its members is free to be fully himself or herself."
The pope also cited the continent for its "rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest of the poor. . . Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited, with the result that – as is so tragically apparent – whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb."
The future of Europe depends on the recovery of the vital connection between heaven and earth, he said, explaining that "the sky suggests openness to the transcendent – to God – which has always distinguished the peoples of Europe, while the earth represents Europe’s practical and concrete ability to confront situations and problems."
A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life "is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that 'humanistic spirit' which it still loves and defends," he said.
Francis went on to reiterate the readiness of the Holy See and the Catholic Church, through the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (COMECE), to engage in meaningful, open and transparent dialogue with the institutions of the European Union.
"I am likewise convinced that a Europe which is capable of appreciating its religious roots and of grasping their fruitfulness and potential, will be all the more immune to the many forms of extremism spreading in the world today, not least as a result of the great vacuum of ideals which we are currently witnessing in the West, since 'it is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence'."
Europe can restore its hope by doing more than just acknowledging the centrality of the human person, but also in investing in ways that nurture an individual's gifts and talents. This means protecting the family in order to avoid the "dire social consequence" that have accompanied its disintegration around the world. Schools and universities should provide more than just technical expertise to students, but assist them in the more complex process of growing in his or her totality. Policies must be promoted to give employment so that people are able to create families and provide for them. In addition, it must continue to be in the vanguard of promoting a clean earth and in respecting the rights of migrants.
"The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values," the pope said. "In building a Europe which courageously embraces its past and confidently looks to its future in order fully to experience the hope of its present. The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed . . . a Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for, defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity!"
The pope's four-hour visit to the Strasbourg-based Parliament ranks as the shortest papal trip ever, and was the second time he visited the European continent since his election. His first European trip was to Albania in September.
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