"A Message of Hope and Encouragement"
On the occasion of Pope Francis' visit to the European Parliament the President of the Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), Reinhard Cardinal Marx, stated:
Today's visit to the European Parliament was the first encounter between the Pope and Europe as a whole. In his speech to the European Parliament, Pope Francis underlined the significance of European integration and the need to carry the project forward. The very fact that he visited the European Parliament before he visited individual Member States was an indication of how much value the Pope attached to the European Union. His speech was "a message of hope and encouragement", and not just for the MEP's alone but for all European citizens.
At the heart of this papal message was the challenge to Europe not just to look back at its history with dewy-eyed nostalgia but to position itself with courage as it faces its future. It must not be self-congratulatory nor defensive, it must come up with new and imaginative ideas which it can share with the entire world. One can see the Pope's speech as a social encyclical for Europe.
At the heart of the Pope's message was the belief that the human being must be at the centre of the European project: "and not just as citizen nor merely as an economic subject ... but as men and women as persons endowed with transcendental dignity." The central role of the human person in the project of European integration puts rights and values rather than economics at its heart. Against this background, the Pope encouraged the MEP's "to work together in constructing a Europe focused on the economy but focused on the holiness of the human person, on his/her inalienable rights."
With these considerations in mind, the Pope provided valuable ideas as to concrete political challenges for the EU. His tone was very positive right from the outset when he emphasized the gifts Europe already possessed as a resource for its future development. He highlighted the family as the building block and guarantee for Europe's future, while also emphasising education and science as essential ingredients for holistic human development. The Pope went on to praise the EU for its commitment to the ecology, and reminded his listeners that we do not possess the earth, we only take care of it. He encouraged European politicians to engage in international negotiations, which he admitted were complex, and to carry forward its commitment to the environment.
The Pope attached singular importance to work. In his speech he returned to this theme and emphasised the value of human work. It is not just a question of creating employment, but of dignified work. He pleaded for a certain flexibility in the labour market and emphasised how important it was to provide work that offered the prospect of stability. With his visit to Lampedusa in mind, Pope Francis put his finger on the wound of European migration policy. He did not just warn his listeners that the Mediterranean had become one big graveyard, but he challenged the Europeans to display solidarity in the area of tackling the migration problem and take concrete policy steps to address the issue.
I am particularly grateful to the Holy Father for flagging up the positive contribution of the COMECE and its resolve to be a contributor into the future. He also valued the dialogue between the religious communities and the European institutions, copper-fastened as it is in the primary law of the Union through the Lisbon Treaty, thus enabling the Church to continue in the dialogue process. The bishops of COMECE wish to work with the dialogue possibilities opened up by the EU institutions and, encouraged by the Pope's words, wish to continue into the future. I am every so grateful to the Pope for his words of hope and encouragement. The Pope concluded by making clear that, in his view, Europe can be a precious point of reference for all humanity.