Pope Francis knows how to surprise. He knows how to surprise just as he knows how to be heard. He has demonstrated it countless times over the past year and a half of his pontificate and has confirmed it on November 25 during his short visit to European institutions. Invited to deliver two speeches – to the European Parliament and to the Council of Europe – playing “away from home” as some have said; yet he did nothing but be himself: a man of faith who lives in his time. Distributing and collecting smiles, reaffirming full confidence in mankind and in the future, bringing firm words of denunciation (the denied lives of the terminally ill and of those terminated before their birth; human rights bowed down to interests, violence, trafficking, terrorism…). Talking openly, starting from his “vocation as a pastor”, with the political institutions of the Old Continent. At the European Assembly he offered “a message of hope and encouragement to all the citizens of Europe”. It is the most incisive aspect of this journey, reiterated, albeit with different words, in the two buildings of the European quarter of the Alsatian town. And it will be remembered. “It is a message of hope – said Bergoglio – based on the confidence that our problems can become powerful forces for unity in working to overcome all those fears which Europe – together with the entire world – is presently experiencing. It is a message of hope in the Lord, who turns evil into good and death into life”. The Holy Father then encouraged listeners to retrace the footsteps of the “founding fathers of the European Union who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent”. “Unity”, “togetherness” – are other key-words of Pope’s Bergoglio’s journey across Europe – for a Europe that may be able to live “in peace”, at the same time “creative and resourceful, respectful of rights and conscious of its duties”. Thus, to outline the profile of a Europe that is confirmed in its roots, which works to present a more liveable present, especially for the poor, the marginalized, the migrants – the Pope explicitly mentions them – which builds the “common house” of the future, Francis used the image of the “School of Athens” by Raphael, preserved in the Vatican. “Plato and Aristotle are in the centre – he said -. Plato’s finger is pointed upward, to the world of ideas, to the sky”. He added: “This strikes me as a very apt image of Europe and her history, made up of the constant interplay between heaven and earth, where the sky suggests that openness to the transcendent – to God – which has always distinguished the peoples of Europe, while the earth represents Europe’s practical and concrete ability to confront situations and problems”. For the Latin-American Pope “the future of Europe depends on the recovery of the vital connection between these two elements”. That of the Pope is a “lay” discourse, inspired by high values, “by the transcendent”. He repeated it to journalists during the return flight: “These words are to be found in the Gospel and in Church social doctrine”. He also mentioned the Letter to Diognetus, by an anonymous second-century author, which states: “Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body”. It is a clear reference to the believers’ responsibility towards the “polis”: Europe needs Christians to act as protagonists within righteous democratic systems. Pope Francis tackled a wide range of specific topics in his two speeches (he quoted from Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI): the defence of the rights, the family, employment, education, environmental protection (recalling the next encyclical on the protection of Creation). And, especially in the Assembly Hall of the EU Parliament, he was interrupted by several rounds of applauses. This shepherd, always on the side of the last and of justice, who takes modernity as the context where he courageously brings the message of Jesus, underlined that time, also the present time, is an open and fruitful field for the evangelizing mission. Bergoglio came to Strasbourg to reaffirm faith in an “aged”, “often wounded”, “pessimistic” Europe; to ensure that it will not let herself be overcome by “fear”, by selfish – and nationalistic – closures, by mere material interests. Parafraphrasing Bergolio, it is an “outgoing” Europe, which is the exact opposite of a closed fortress, in which many would like to reduce the continent. The Pope underlined it in his closing words to the EU Parliament: “The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed, in order to revive and encourage a Europe of leadership, a repository of science, art, music, human values and faith as well. A Europe which contemplates the heavens and pursues lofty ideals. A Europe which cares for, defends and protects man, every man and woman. A Europe which bestrides the earth surely and securely, a precious point of reference for all humanity”.
Bergoglio brought a message of hope and encouragement within Strasbourg's European institutions