On his only second European apostolic journey, Pope Francis this week gave a pep talk to a rapt audience of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
With the speech, lasting only 36 minutes before dashing off to catch his plane, Pope Francis’s visit was like the hired motivational speaker flown in at just the right moment to give the losing team a wake-up call at half-time. Not mincing words, Francis said Europe is “somewhat elderly and haggard,” and is aging like “a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.” What has replaced the great ideas of Europe are now “bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.
All these points led to his main lecture to Europe’s leaders on the lack of respect for human life from conception to death: “whenever a human life no longer proves useful…, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.” Continuing, he stated that talks and debates of economic and political turmoil are fruitless if the human person is ignored, as “men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited.” Francis, in support of the migrants and immigrants, who routinely risk their lives to enter Europe from North Africa, directly confronted the poor treatment of them by saying, “we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”
To remind the leaders of why human dignity is at the heart of his message, Francis faithfully preached that it is the individual who has “transcendent human dignity” coming from God, “appealing to human nature, to our innate capacity to distinguish good from evil, to that ‘compass’ deep within our hearts, which God has impressed upon all creation.” A guiding principle that led to the triumph of Western Civilisation, is now on the verge of being lost. The Pope spoke of, “A great vacuum of ideals, which we are currently witnessing in the West, since ‘it is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.’’
Governments and human rights courts must protect the individual if Europe wants to maintain its motto of “Unity in Diversity.” What makes Europe rich is the “family” of diverse nations that unite for peace and fraternity, not a monolithic body of uniformity. However, this individuality is often lost in our “’throwaway culture’ and uncontrolled consumerism.”
Despite the pessimistic reality check, Pope Francis’s message was one to encourage and to give hope, that if only European laws and courts recognise the dignity of the human person and the family, a freely expressing individuality will flourish and produce the courage and creativity to face today’s challenges, which will bring true lasting peace to the region. “Indeed, all authentic unity draws from the rich diversities which make it up: in this sense it is like a family, which is all the more united when each of its members is free to be fully himself or herself…The family, united, fruitful and indissoluble, possesses the elements fundamental for fostering hope in the future.”
Thus, as any good motivational speech, the talk hit at the unspoken truth held in the neglected region in the hearts of this secularly beleaguered audience. Pope Francis was met with a 2-minute standing ovation. The coach had achieved his goal of inspiring a body of leaders at half-time, who govern over five hundred million people, around a counter-cultural message. Elected leaders take note.