On Tuesday, Pope Francis addressed the European parliament in the French city of Strasbourg. The speech was a historic event, following 26 years after Pope John Paul II spoke before the same assembly, not long before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then, the late pontiff hailed the European Union as a "beacon of civilization."
Pope Francis, though, was far less full of praise. The first Latin American pontiff said he intended to give "hope and encouragement" to his European flock, but the speech that followed was more a searing critique than a pep talk. He decried the "loneliness" setting into Europe, the ebbing of its "humanistic spirit" in the face of self-interested policies and the concerns of "trade and commerce." He said that Europe was a "haggard" "grandmother." And, like any good cleric, Pope Francis urged the European Union to remember the "transcendent dimension" and the importance of human dignity.
What follows are some of his most cutting remarks, which were delivered in Italian, accompanied with a bit of context. (You can read a translated transcript of the full speech here):
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.
In this instance, he's probably specifically addressing the European Union itself, an institution beset by a crippling sense of malaise and cynicism from voting publics across the continent. Voter apathy haunts E.U. polls; so, too, do nativist and Euroskeptic political parties.
In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother,” no longer fertile and vibrant.
It's no secret that the center of gravity in world affairs has shifted away from Europe. The world's most dynamic, exciting economies are in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Europe, in contrast — beset by financial crises, soaring unemployment in some countries and the unraveling of the welfare state in others — appears to be in something of a funk. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman dubbed the continent in 2005 "an assisted living facility with Turkish nurses" — a metaphor that finds echo in the pope's remarks nearly a decade later.
We encounter certain 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.
Pope Francis is taking aim at Europe's jet-setting business elites. His distaste for the great wealth of the 1 percent is well-known; he has already called out the greed of bankers and the political establishment that allows them to get away with such lucrative profits, even when they endanger the greater economy and the livelihoods of those far poorer. Earlier this year, Pope Francis said that it "is increasingly intolerable that financial markets are shaping the destiny of peoples rather than serving their needs, or that the few derive immense wealth from financial speculation while the many are deeply burdened by the consequences.
The pontiff went on in his remarks to attack the "functionalistic and privatized mindset" of many of Europe's leading decision-makers.
We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!
Pope Francis raised one of his other key talking points — the issue of migrants reaching Europe. Hundreds have died this year alone attempting to reach the continent's shores on flimsy, over-packed boats. The pope made a landmark visit to the Italian isle of Lampedusa last year, whose proximity to the African coast means it's one of the targets of those making the dangerous crossing. In his speech at Strasbourg, Pope Francis criticized the "self-interest" of individual European countries for getting in the way of a coherent, effective policy to deal with refugees and asylum seekers. Europe's identity, the pope said, is shaped by its "rich diversities" and should continue to be so.