Pope Francis, the Time magazine’s ‘Man of the year’ for 2013 continues to be one of the most influential, popular as well as controversial figures today and grabs headlines every other day for his liberal views and has been successful in injecting a fresh aura into the huge number of laymen growing apart from the Roman Catholic Church. His liberal stance on same sex marriages, strong stand on the reformation of the Roman Curia and the Church have been applauded as well as looked upon with caution and criticism by many. This time, the Pope is in news for his speech in the European Union. His presence in a democratic and secular institution was met with protest. A ‘Femen’ (pro-abortion feminist group) demonstrator mounted the altar in Strasbourg’s famed cathedral on Monday flashing her naked torso and waving the EU flag.
The Pope attracted media attention with his address to the European Union in Strasbourg, which moved away from tradition and the expectations of ardent church followers by talking about issues apart from ecclesiastical matters. He included issues like economic reforms, unemployment, dignity of an individual, human rights, lethargy and ‘haggardness’ of Europe, immigration issues, and problems in the Middle East in his speech. However the Pope did not talk about the recent legislative changes in many of the European nations on gay marriage, euthanasia and abortion.
Pope Francis’ address to the European Union is the first one in a long gap of 26 years. The last address from the Pontiff of the Catholic Church being that of Pope John Paul II which was in a totally different scenario before the fall of Berlin wall. The global scenario has changed vastly and the European Union is slowly fading into oblivion on account of various problems plaguing the European Union such as the Euro Crisis, immigration issues, inconsistent support of member governments and economic vulnerability of its member countries.
The Latin American Pope in true pastoral style offered a message of hope and encouragement to all citizens of Europe. Many who were expecting a dull speech on the same old ecclesiastical issues were in for a pleasant surprise with the firm tone set by the Pope in is address. The Pope criticised the ‘haggardness’ of the European Union and called it a Grandmother. The Pope called for renewed spirit and united action on various fronts and championed the cause of human rights. He called for pro-active steps to create employment and strengthen the economy.
The Holy Father also reproached the European Union on its stand regarding migration. The European Union’s paralysis on the immigration from the Middle East and North African countries has been fatal. “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery” said the Pope with reference to the more than 3,200 of whom have died trying to reach Europe this year alone. The European Union shall do well to take note of the unveiled criticism of its immigration policy and reach a consensus based on the larger picture and not on a narrow European point of view. The European Union’s present stance on immigration seems to be stupid taking into consideration the ‘Greying of Europe’.
The median age of the European continent was 40 in 2010 and the native population is decreasing. Greying Europe needs a younger labour force to be relevant in the global market. Its strict immigration policy not only with regard to Middle East and North African countries but also countries like India needs to be mended soon. The issue of illegal immigration needs to be carefully examined, and a solution needs to be reached upon quick. The Pope failed to provide any concrete solutions to any of the problems he mentioned apart from assuring the willingness of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (COMECE) and the Holy See to engage in meaningful dialogue.
Parallels can be drawn with reference to the European Union and the Roman Curia. The Vatican See and the EU are both losing relevance and the centre ground it once occupied. There seems to be a lacuna between the organisations and the public it aims to reach out to. There is growing discontentment in the general public of Europe no doubt due to the economic scenario and the inability of the EU to tackle rising unemployment, unstable Euro etc.
Whereas the disappointment over the church’s stance on issues like gay marriage, use of contraception, abortion, priesthood for women has led to a major drop in the number of church goers in the American and European continents. Infighting and politics amongst its members is another similarity between the two organisations. In the Vatican the fight is between the orthodox, conservative ageing clergy and the liberal clergy with fresh ideas whereas in the EU there appears to be no consensus and consistency over important issues, not to forget a few states trying to flex their muscles.
While the Vatican seems to be slowly gaining the lost ground among the laity with the popular Pope Francis, the EU seems to be sinking more day by day. A substantial revamp is required for the EU to remain relevant in the globalised world. Lack of quick steps to reconcile to the situation may indeed result in obscurity.
Amala Maria George