Pope Francis receives Charlemagne award, tells EU to tear down migrant walls
VATICAN CITY – Agence France-PressePope Francis said May 6 that he dreamed of a Europe in which “being a migrant is not a crime,” as he urged EU leaders to “tear down the walls” and build a fairer society, during a speech as the 79-year-old pontiff was presented with the EU’s Charlemagne Prize for his contribution to European unification.
Invoking the memory of the EU founding fathers’ pursuit of integration in the aftermath of World War II, the pontiff said they inspired because they had “dared to change radically the models” that had led to war.
“Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls,” he told a Vatican audience including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been at the center of the EU’s attempts to resolve its biggest refugee crisis since the war ended in 1945.
And in a rhetorical flourish with echoes of Martin Luther-King’s legendary ‘I have a dream’ speech, the pope said he dreamed of a new European humanism that embraced the poor, the elderly, the young and the sick.
“I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being,” he said.
The Charlemagne prize is awarded annually by the German city of Aachen for contributions to European unity. Previous winners include former U.S. President Bill Clinton and St. John Paul II, who received a special edition of the prize in 2004.
The Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne once ruled a large swath of western Europe from Aachen, near the Belgian border.
Having unexpectedly decided to accept the award, Francis delivered a typically hard-hitting message to listeners that also included the heads of the EU’s main institutions, the Council, the Commission, the Parliament and its central bank.
Francis held a private audience early May 6 with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a former Charlemagne Prize recipient, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker and EU Council President Donald Tusk. He also met with Merkel.
“What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?” he asked. “What has happened to you, Europe, the home of poets, philosophers, artists, musicians, and men and women of letters?”
Francis has made the cause of migrants trying to reach Europe one of the defining themes of his papacy.