ROME – Despite his recovery from an abdominal surgery that could keep him in the hospital through all of this week, Pope Francis still made a point over the weekend of challenging Europe’s largest conservative political party over climate change and immigration.
In a message addressed to members of the EPP, or the “European People’s Party,” the pope stressed the importance of embracing an attitude of global fraternity.
“Fraternity and social friendship are the great ‘dream’ that I shared with the entire Church and all men and women of goodwill,” he said, referring to his 2020 encyclical on the topic, Fratelli Tutti.
“I think that fraternity can also be a source of inspiration for those who today want to re-animate Europe, so that it fully responds to the expectations of both its peoples and the whole world. Because a European project today can only be a global project,” he said.
The EPP is the oldest and largest political party in the European Parliament and was founded by several Christian-democratic parties in 1976 and is composed largely of liberal-conservative and center-right politicians.
In his message, Francis said Christian politicians today ought to distinguish themselves for “their ability to translate the great dream of fraternity into concrete actions of good politics at all levels: local, national, international.”
“For example: Challenges like that of migration, or that of caring for the planet, to me seem like they can only be faced starting from this great inspiring principle: human fraternity,” he said.
Currently led by party president and German politician Manfred Weber, the EPP is known for a broadly anti-migrant position, pushing consistently for tighter border controls, and has been widely criticized by political opponents for its recent decision to back out of negotiations within the European Parliament aimed at restoring nature and preventing the loss of biodiversity in order to allow the EU to achieve its climate and biodiversity goals.
The EPP argued that the new legislation, which aims at restoring 20 percent of the EU’s degraded ecosystems by 2030, would take land away from farmers, threaten EU food security, and impede the development of renewable energies. Their opposition has been met with fierce backlash by other European political parties.
Pope Francis’s message to the European Parliamentarians was dated June 9, and was signed by the pontiff from his room at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital, where he recently underwent surgery for an abdominal hernia, and where he has been urged to stay through the end of the week by his doctors.
Papal documents are usually signed by the pope at either the Apostolic Palace or the Lateran Palace, the traditional sees of papal government. This was the first time Francis signed a document from the Gemelli Hospital.
The date of the message, June 9, was the day on which Francis was scheduled to hold an audience with the EPP parliamentarians, but that meeting was cancelled due to the pope’s surgery.
He also skipped his public Angelus address on Sunday, reciting it in private, marking the first time he has not delivered his message for the traditional Marian prayer either in person or via livestream since his election in 2013.
In his message, Pope Francis insisted on the need to be representatives of the people and lamented a growing gap between citizens and parliamentarians.
He also insisted on the need to maintain a healthy level of pluralism within such a large parliamentary group, but cautioned that they must remain united on certain issues “in which there are primary ethical values and important points of the Christian social doctrine in play.”
“Christian politicians must distinguish themselves for the seriousness with which they address issues, rejecting opportunistic solutions and always holding fast to the criteria of the dignity of the person and the common good,” he said.
The EPP has a rich patrimony in Catholic social doctrine that it brings to European politics, he said, and pointed to the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.
When it comes to governing, the pontiff said the European vision they must adhere to is one of “unity and diversity.”
“This is fundamental…A Europe that fully values the different cultures that make it up, its enormous wealth of traditions, languages, identities, which are those of its people and their histories; and which at the same time is capable, with its institutions and its political and cultural initiatives, of ensuring that this very rich mosaic composes coherent figures,” he said.
To do this requires a strong inspiration, dreams, high values and a high political vision, Francis said, insisting that if ordinary management and normal administration are good, “it is already a lot. But that is not enough.”
“It is not enough to support a Europe that is faced with the great global challenges of the 21st century. To face such challenges as a united Europe,” a high and strong inspiration is needed, he said, telling the parliamentarians that they “should be the first to treasure the examples and teachings of the founding fathers of this Europe.”
The aim, he said, is not just to be “an organization that protects the interests of European nations, but for a union where everyone can live a life ‘on a human scale, fraternal and just.’”
Pope Francis, as he has often done in the past, pushed for European unity, urging the parliamentarians to recall the foundations of the European Union and to not forget “the tragedy of the wars of the 20th century.”
“The gradual and patient work of building a united Europe, first in particular and then increasingly general areas, what did have as inspiration? What ideal, if not that of generating a space where one could live in freedom, justice and peace, respecting each other in diversity?” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen