Pope Francis & the European Parliament:
launching the next five years
Pope Francis is coming to Strasbourg on 25 November with one purpose only. In response to an invitation from President Martin Schulz, issued twice, his sole purpose is to address the plenary assembly of the European Parliament.
We do not know how closely developments in Europe were ever followed by the former archbishop from far-away Buenos Aires, but we can be sure that the Pope will have closely studied European affairs since taking up residence in Rome. It is clear that in opting to visit the European Parliament before visiting any of the individual EU member states, the Holy Father is acknowledging the unique role of the EU institutions in the life of our continent and reassuring the wider world of the Catholic Church’s benevolent support for the ideals of the European project.
President Schulz, in inviting Pope Francis, will have given him carte blanche where the contents of his address to the EP is concerned. It would be foolhardy for any pundit to attempt to steal the Pope’s thunder. His speech will be carefully and thoughtfully scripted, but where the contents and, above all, the tone are concerned, we must bide our time until 25 November.
It is important to realize that Pope Francis is responding to an invitation. His host will have expectations. President Schulz and the MEP’s have a right to assume that the Pope display sensitivity to the long-term aspirations of the European project, to the competences and policy fields which are specific to the Union, and to the questions the members of parliament, who represent more than five hundred million EU citizens, might have to the forefront of their minds.
The moment is singularly propitious. On 25 November the new Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker and his team, will have just launched their five-year programme. So, Europe and its future promise to be big news in mid-November. The Pope will be tapping in to the European narrative at a critical turning-point. And, without doubt, providing challenging in-put.
The Holy Father will be speaking to an EP that will still have the freshness and energy of any parliament at the beginning of its term, knowing that 58% of the MEP’s are in the parliament for the first time, and are impressionable. Pope Francis, with early experience in Jesuit colleges in Argentina and sensitive to the shifting pattern of religious education in recent decades, will also be aware that he cannot assume from his Strasbourg audience familiarity with Christian social teaching that earlier generations absorbed in the air they breathed. He is a skilled pedagogue and Strasbourg will be his first test in the political arena. It will mark an important new departure in the new Pope’s mission as teacher.
The message of the Pope will certainly be the fruit of prayer and thought, but it is safe to assume that it will challenge MEP’s to look inwards, to their own souls so as to find clues as to where we might find the elusive soul of Europe, and outwards in the knowledge that Europe is but one of a number of vital players – and, perhaps, not even the most important one – on the bigger global stage.
Father Patrick H. Daly
General Secretary COMECE