Pope Francis launched a blistering attack against Europe Tuesday claiming that the former cradle of democracy was growing “haggard,” soulless, and irrelevant.
Francis became the first pope to address the European Parliament since the end of the Cold War, but he was in no mood to stand on ceremony. Looking tired but determined, the first Latin-American Pope told Europe that it must do more to help migrants settle safely on the continent.
Thousands have died this year alone as overcrowded boats seek refuge on Europe’s southern shores. “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said.
Europe has vowed to end a rescue program that helped to pluck migrants from the sea as they traveled from Africa and the Middle East looking for asylum or a surreptitious European entry point via Italy.
The gathered politicians applauded warmly as Francis called for more compassion, but that did not deter him from rattling through an extraordinary array of insults.
“We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant,” he said. “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.”
The last time a Pope addressed the parliament in Strasbourg was in 1988 when an Iron Curtain still divided the continent. John Paul II told the European Union at the time that it was “a beacon of civilization.” A quarter of a century later, the new head of the Roman Catholic Church claimed that those days had been consigned to history.
“The great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions,” said the Argentinian-born pontiff.
His address to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe came six months after Europe-wide elections which saw a surge in support for parties who expressed dissatisfaction with the continent’s centralized power structure.
“In recent years, as the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful,” he said.
Francis arrived in Strasbourg for his four-hour visit in a standard gray family car rather than the traditional “Pope-mobile” and he declined to greet crowds of supporters during the shortest foreign tour in papal history.
In the absence of ceremonial formalities, Francis favored a business-like manner. He told lawmakers from the European Union’s 28 member states that they needed to take a more harmonious policy approach. He said the failure to develop a coherent immigration policy would have a devastating impact.
“The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging… solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants, and thus contribute to slave labor and continuing social tensions,” he said. “A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul.”
Francis is due to visit the U.S. in September next year. The papal view of lawmaking on Capitol Hill is unknown, but Congress you have been warned.