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Pope tells European leaders: solidarity will overcome populism, ‘fruit of egotism’

March 24, 2017

Addressing 27 European heads of state on March 24, Pope Francis said that the founders of the European Union rightly understood that “the heart of the European political project could only be man himself.

The Pope spoke to a distinguished group of European leaders in the Sala Regia, in an event marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to today’s European Union. In a formal address, the Holy Father said that it is important to “relive that event in order to appreciate its significance for the present.”

In 1957, the Pontiff recalled, European leaders were “full of hope and expectation, enthusiasm and apprehension.” The founders of the European community, he said, had a goal that went beyond economic alliance:

The founding fathers remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey, or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance.

Unlike his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who had frequently warned against the lost of Europe’s shared Christian identity, Pope Francis did not focus on that theme. He devoted only one paragraph of his lengthy speech to the Christian heritage, quoting Alcide de Gasperi, one of the principal founders of the European community, who said that “at the origin of European civilization there is Christianity.”

In the remainder of the speech the Pontiff spoke more generally about the foundation of European society. He said that the “pillars” of the European community are “the centrality of man, effective solidarity, openness to the world, the pursuit of peace and development, openness to the future.”

Pope Francis touched on several contemporary political issues during his address, mentioning the crises “that engender fear and profound confusion among our contemporaries.” Fear, he said, has become more prominent because of a loss of ideals. He called for a willingness to be open to accepting other peoples, and promised that Europe would discover “new hope in solidarity, which is also the most effective antidote to modern forms of populism.” The Pope left no doubt about his distaste for populist movements, saying that they are “the fruit of an egotism that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and looking beyond their own narrow vision.

Among the European leaders who were present for the papal address were Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council; Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission; and Antonio Tajani, ther President of the European Parliament. Tajani remarked, in an interview with Vatican Radio, “The meeting with the Pope is very important for everybody. The Pope is a very important man, not only for the Christian people, but for everybody.”


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