ROME – Less than a week after Pope Francis called on people to recognize migrants as “a living image of God’s people on their way to the eternal homeland,” voters across Europe dealt a potentially serious blow to that vision by rewarding far-right, anti-immigrant parties in elections for the European parliament.

While mainstream, pro-EU forces are still expected to put together a governing majority, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proclaiming the results show that “the center is holding,” a major storyline in the June 6-9 elections nevertheless was the strong showing of far-right parties in several nations.

The results were most dramatic in France, where President Emanuel Macron’s faction was swamped by the National Rally party under Marine Le Pen, forcing Macron to dissolve parliament and call snap elections for June 30.

In Austria, Germany and the Netherlands too, far-right parties scored major gains. Conversely, Green and liberal parties each lost an estimated 20 seats, with the Greens dipping from 72 seats in the current parliament to just 53 in the new one.

In Italy, the center-right Brothers of Italy party under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni was the big winner, claiming almost 30 percent of the vote, although the main leftist opposition party, the Democrats, also did better than expected, finishing at roughly 24 percent.

Many analysts believe the fact the both France and Germany, considered the two most influential members of the 27 states that make up the European Union, both now face surging right-wing populist movements may prove especially consequential.

On the whole, most observers expect the new-look European Parliament to be somewhat more Euro-skeptic, less aggressive in responding to climate change and on environmental policies, and tougher on migration.

All that may pose serious challenges for the Vatican’s diplomatic and political agenda under Pope Francis, who has repeatedly warned against the rise of the very sort of nationalist and populist forces who scored major gains.

In November 2022, for example, Francis hosted a Vatican lunch for hundreds of refugees and homeless persons, saying at the time, “Let us not be enchanted by the sirens of populism, which exploit people’s real needs by facile and hasty solutions.” Last August, he used the platform created by World Youth Day to condemn “populism and conspiracy theories.”

Ahead of the European elections, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), and Bishop Mariano Crociata of Latina and president of the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), issued a public letter on the vote widely perceived to have been inspired by Pope Francis.

In it, the two prelates urged commitment to European unity, writing, “Some would push to believe that we would be better off in isolation, whereas any one of your countries, even a large one, would be fatally reduced to the weakest position.”

They also pressed European voters on migration, saying “you cannot just look inwards. You cannot live just to feel good; you need to feel good enough to help the world, to combat injustice, to fight against poverty.”

“Sooner or later, we will learn that responsibilities, including the ones towards migrants, can only be shared, to face and solve problems that are indeed common problems,” the two bishops said.

Elections results, however, would suggest those messages weren’t quite shared by a growing number of European voters.

The results may be especially challenging for Catholic leaders in Germany, where the country’s bishops in February had called the far-right Alternative for Germany party “incompatible” with Church teaching, and a parish worker who was also a prominent party member was fired. Despite those efforts, the Alliance for Germany gained 16 percent of the vote, outperforming Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats and making it the second-largest political force in the country.

On the other hand, the growing political influence of more right-wing forces in Europe could help Francis on a couple of other fronts, including Ukraine, where Francis and some populist grouping share a skepticism about Western backing for prolonging the war with Russia, as well as the pope’s noted opposition to “gender theory,” as well as euthanasia and abortion.

In April, the European Parliament voted to include access to abortion in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, an outcome considered mostly symbolic given that all 27 member states would have to agree to such an amendment, and both Poland and Malta vowed to block it.

Given the new composition of the parliament, such measures are likely to face greater resistance.