At a meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Pope Francis delivered an address which was very critical of the continent which he said is viewed as a ‘grandmother.’ He touched on many subjects in his speech, but the overall themes were the same he has used at other times. The dignity of human beings, particularly immigrants, was a strong point, as was the call for democratic cooperation between states. He also took on the interests of some corporations which he seems to think exert undue influence over democratic institutions. His speech was met with relatively little protest, but it may just be a warning to the American Congress which Francis is scheduled to visit next year.
As the first non-European pope, Francis perspective on the EU may be one of the more interesting out there. He is not European, but he oversees a religion with strong European roots and history, a fact which he acknowledged in his speech. Despite this fact, the EU is usually seen as a more secular body that avoids issues of faith. Pope Francis did not belabor the religious point, instead choosing to focus on matters of poverty, immigration and human dignity. In particular, he emphasized the plight of many migrants in the EU who are facing hardship and danger.
In one rather striking passage, he told the parliament that “we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.” At the time, a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants was in the process of being rescued by Greek authorities. Most likely, the officials sitting in parliament on that day were aware of this situation and many others where immigrants lives were in danger. Perhaps this was Pope Francis’ subtle way of reminding people of the problem without being overbearing or pushy.
He also talked in veiled terms about “multinational interests” which have too much clout in democratic systems and often influence them in ways beneficial to their concerns. Pope Francis warned that such interests are “not universal.” As a populist figure and ardent defender of the economically disenfranchised, these comments are being interpreted as a reference to corporations which are often sen to disregard the good of individuals or even whole communities in order to further their own economic gain. The pope was conscious of such influences on bodies like the parliament and warned against letting them have too strong a voice. As always, his focus was trained on the poor and needy and how they might be served.
After criticising Europe and characterising its character as an elderly, frail grandmother, some may well wonder what Pope Francis will have to say about the numerically younger United States Congress. Immigration is an important issue, especially after President Obama’s recent announcements on the subject, and it is one that is obviously close to the pope’s heart. He may have some warnings for America similar to those he gave to Europe. As far as corporate influence goes, he will have plenty of ammunition to level against Congress when he visits next year. The influence of super PACs, lobbyists, corporate donors and people like the Koch brothers have all been part of national debate recently. Pope Francis warned that Europe was at risk of “losing its own soul.” He might have something similar to say when he visits Congress next year.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury
Photo by epp group – Flickr License