Europe is struggling to live up to the vision of its founders, Pope Francis has said in a powerful speech that asked: “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?”
Speaking as he became the first pope to accept the prestigious Charlemagne prize for his work on behalf of European solidarity, the pontiff called for Europe to reclaim the principles that had been established after the second world war, above all by embracing integration and revamping its economic model to “benefit ordinary people and society as a whole”.
Francis is the first Argentinean and the fourth non-European to win the prize, formally known as the International Charlemagne prize of Aachen. Past recipientsinclude Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, Roman Herzog, Henry Kissinger and George C Marshall. In 2004, Pope John Paul II was awarded an “extraordinary edition of the prize”, but not the award itself. The Charlemagne prize was founded in 1949 by Kurt Pfeiffer to award those who made the most valuable contribution to “west European understanding”.
Francis questioned, in halting language, the direction Europe has taken: “What has happened to you, Europe … the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters? What has happened to you … the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”