Pope Francis, accepting the Charlemagne prize for promoting European unity, has bemoaned that the continent’s people “are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences”.
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime, but a summons to a greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” he told an audience, including German chancellor, Angela Merkel, Italian premier, Matteo Renzi, and Spain’s King Felipe VI.
“I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties toward all. I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.”
The pontiff, the son of European immigrants to Argentina, received the international prize for his “message of hope and encouragement”.
Echoing the famous ‘I have a dream’ speech by US civil rights leader, Martin Luther King jnr, Francis offered his vision of a Europe that cares for children, the elderly, the poor, and the infirm, as well as “those newcomers seeking acceptance, because they have lost everything and need shelter”.
Notwithstanding the prize’s underlying, positive message, the Pope tacitly acknowledged a Europe engulfed in a crisis of confidence, prompted by the threat of terrorism and a surge of migrants. These strengthen nationalistic sentiments that seek to undermine the continent’s unity.
He also said youth unemployment was sapping the continent of its dynamism, and he called for new economic models that are “more inclusive and equitable”.
“There is an impression that Europe is declining, that it has lost its ability to be innovative and creative, that it is more concerned with preserving and dominating spaces than with generating processes of inclusions and change,” Francis said.
He urged Europeans to undergo a “memory transfusion”, citing a phrase by Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, to remember Europe’s fractured past and confront issues that threaten again to divide it.
“A memory transfusion can free us from today’s temptation to build hastily on the shifting stands of immediate results, which may produce quick and easy short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fulfilment,” he said.
The Pope said the Roman Catholic Church can play a role in “the rebirth of a Europe, weary, yet still rich in energies and possibilities”.
The prize, consisting of a medal and a citation, is awarded annually by the German city of Aachen.
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