ROME – As European parliamentary elections kick off Thursday, a top Italian bishop has urged citizens to not only cast a vote, but to do so “responsibly,” selecting candidates and parties that will build a more unified, inclusive union.

In a June 4 statement, Italian Bishop Mariano Crociata of Latina said that in his capacity as president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conference of the European Union (COMECE), “I want to encourage once more all European citizens, especially the Catholics, to vote in the upcoming EU elections.”

He urged faithful to vote “responsibly, choosing candidates and parties that will continue building a better Europe for all, a European Union of shared and genuine values, that promotes peace, both within our continent and beyond, justice, human rights, democracy, solidarity and care for our common home.”

“As the bishops of COMECE expressed in their statement for these elections, we acknowledge that the EU is not perfect, but we want to improve it together using the democratic tools we have, starting by our right to vote,” he said.

Crociata’s statement came ahead of the European Union’s June 6-9 elections, during which some 370 million Europeans will elect new members of the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution that has the power to block legislation.

The European Parliament is the second largest electorate in the world, following India, which just held its own national elections that saw the reelection of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term, but with the loss of an absolute majority for his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in parliament.

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Held every five years, the EU vote this year is expected to yield significant gains for far-right parties amid growing discontent for more mainstream parties and candidates.

A growth in rightwing influence would have significant implications for a variety of key issues in Pope Francis’s agenda, including climate change, migration, social rights, and foreign policy as wars continue to rage in Ukraine and Gaza.

Pope Francis and other top church officials have been outspoken about the need to take more aggressive climate action and to develop a common migration policy based on welcome, solidarity and integration.

The vote could also influence the future of the EU amid a growing EU skepticism, something the pope and European bishops have ardently fought against, frequently stressing the need for a strengthened and unified union capable of overcoming national interests for the sake of the common good.

Polls open at different times depending on the country, with the Netherlands starting June 6, followed by Ireland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Malta, and Slovakia on June 8. The rest of the EU member states vote June 9, with results expected to be announced later that day.

Historically, the two largest European parliamentary groups have been the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

Current forecasts predict that centrist parties EPP and S&D will likely maintain control, granting current president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen another term, but they will suffer losses to more rightwing parties, such as the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy (ID) party.

Crociata in his statement recalled previous COMECE statements in the lead up to elections, including a March statement in which the bishops said the Christian principles on which Europe was founded were either being sidelined, or used for political gain.

In the March 20 statement, the bishops said issues such as the economy, immigration, and health and energy crises were compounded by a “broader crisis of values in the European area, which calls into question democratic principles and institutions.”

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Those who see the future of Europe through the lens of Christian values “feel marginalized, as they do not have the opportunity to express their positions and opinions in an autonomous and distinct way,” they said, and cautioned against fear as a motivator when citizens cast a vote.

“Fear motivates some of them to seek solutions and spiritual support in an objectified and instrumentalized version of tradition, sometimes disguised as an appeal to ‘traditional values,’” they said, lamenting the polarized political landscape.

In this sense, Christian values, they said, “can provide a guarantee of a safe approach to the changes and challenges we face.”

Likewise, Crociata in his June 4 statement also referred to a joint letter he signed with Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference and the pope’s personal peace envoy for the war in Ukraine, in May in which the duo stressed European unity ahead of elections.

In their letter, Crociata and Zuppi said the EU and what it represents “can be strengthened.”

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“You need this because people often speak badly of you, and many forget how many important things you do!” they said, speaking of Europe.

They lamented recent periods of political difficulty and “stalemate” in Europe, saying, “These grow when we lose togetherness and the vision of our shared future or when we oppose against realizing that our destiny is common and that we need to keep on building a united Europe.”

“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 said, calling for a shared set of ideals and values in order to overcome tensions and singular interests.

Christian values, they said, referring to the need to defend life and “welcome it from its beginning to its end,” have a crucial role to play not only in consolidating and improving democracy in Europe, but also in ensuring its legacy for future generations.

“Our wish for you, dearest European Union, is that this electoral round may indeed become an opportunity for revitalization, a reawakening of enthusiasm for a common path,” they said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen