Pope Francis’ address to the European Parliament touched on a variety of issues, all of which, he said, ought to promote the “centrality” of the human person so that a true cultural renewal can be attained. “Today the promotion of human rights is central to the commitment of the European Union to advance the dignity of the person, both within the Union and in its relations with other countries,” the pontiff told members of the European Parliament during his Nov. 25 trip to Strasbourg, France. The commitment to human rights, he said, is “important since there are still too many situations in which human beings are treated as objects whose conception, configuration and utility can be programmed, and who can then be discarded when no longer useful due to weakness, illness or old age.” Pope Francis traveled to Strasbourg Nov. 25, where he first addressed the local seat of European Parliament before going to speak to the Council of Europe. The European Parliament includes members of parliament from the 28 states of the European Union, while the Council of Europe is the organization for the defense of human rights in Europe, and has 47 members. In his opening remarks, the Roman Pontiff noted that although much has changed since the visit of St. John Paul II in 1988, including the fall of barriers dividing the continent, globalization and an increasing ability to interconnect has made the European Union less “Eurocentric.” Despite becoming stronger and larger, the European Union often gives 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 suspicion,” he said. In light of this situation, the Bishop of Rome expressed his desire to offer a pastoral message of hope and encouragement, saying that all political projects ought to have at their heart a confidence in men and women as being endowed with transcendent dignity. Marked by numerous conflicts in its recent past, Europe’s recognition of human rights came after a long process with much suffering, the Pope said, noting that these rights still need to be promoted in a society where the weak are often discarded. “What kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing one’s thought or professing one’s religious faith? What dignity can there be without a clear judicial framework which limits the rule of force and enables the rule of law to prevail over the power of tyranny?” he asked. “What dignity can men and women ever enjoy if they are subjected to all types of discrimination? What dignity can a person ever hope to find when he or she lacks food and bare essentials for survival,” including work? Pope Francis also cautioned that while the promotion of human rights is necessary, their promotion can be misused, particularly with the claim to individual rights. An underlying factor in the push for individual rights is the concept that the human being is detached from all social and anthropological roots, thus making the person a “monad” who promotes the individual but not the human person, the Pope observed. He encouraged all to work for the common good, in which the rights of the individual are “harmoniously” linked and geared toward the greater good of all. “One of the most common diseases in Europe today is the loneliness typical of those who have no connection with others,” the pontiff noted, saying that the E.U. is now often perceived as “a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.” As a result the ideas that once inspired Europe are no longer attractive, the Pope explained, pointing out that these ideas are overridden with selfish habits and indifference, especially to the poor. With technology and economics running political debate, human beings are in danger of “being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited,” he said, noting how often times the terminally ill, the elderly and children in the womb are disregarded, abandoned and killed as a result. Pope Francis questioned how there can be hope in the face of such a desperate situation. He said that that it lies in a constant interaction between heaven and earth, which is illustrated in Raphael’s famous “School of Athens” painting, in which Plato points toward the sky, and Aristotle gestures toward the ground. A Europe which remains closed to the transcendent aspect of human life “risks slowly losing its own soul,” the Pope explained, and re-affirmed the importance of keeping the human person as the central point of a society that would otherwise be subject to the “whims and powers of the moment.” He assured parliament members of the Holy See’s readiness and willingness to have a “transparent” dialogue, and encouraged them to remember Europe’s religious roots. He also warned against the violent extremism raging throughout the world, caused in large by man’s “forgetfulness” of God. The Roman Pontiff pointed to the E.U.’s motto “Unity in Diversity,” and urged parliament to work for the unity of persons by avoiding the many “manipulations and phobias” present in the culture. Also contained in this work, he said, is the responsibility to keep democracy alive. Democracies today, he observed, are weakened by “the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal” and which often turn them into economic power systems. So to give Europe hope means to keep the human person at the center and implies the nurturing of each individual so that their gifts and talents are able to flourish, particularly in terms of education and family life, which is “the fundamental cell and most precious element of any society.” “The family, united, fruitful and indissoluble, possesses the elements fundamental for fostering hope in the future. Without this solid basis, the future ends up being built on sand, with dire social consequences,” the pontiff explained. In addition to promoting the family and education programs that go beyond mere technological expertise, there is a need to advance efforts in promoting ecology, he said, noting how Europe has always been a pioneer in this area. “Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us. This means on the one hand that nature is at our disposal, to enjoy and use properly. Yet it also means that we are not its masters. Stewards, but not masters,” the Bishop of Rome continued. He also spoke of work and the need to strive to create employment opportunities, and encouraged Europe’s leaders to give a stronger response to the increase in migration to the continent. “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.” The lack of mutual support within the E.U. puts the finding of workable solutions to migration at risk, the Pope noted, saying that in failing to adequately address the problem, the E.U. risks promoting “pluralistic solutions” that disregard human dignity and therefore “contribute to slave labor and continuing social tensions.” Pope Francis concluded his speech by encouraging parliament members to keep their own identity in mind as they work together in helping Europe to “rediscover the best of itself.” “The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well,” the pontiff said. He called for the continent to care for, defend and protect each man and woman, therefore becoming a Europe “which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity!”
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