The pope made the remarks in an address to the European Parliament, the first pontifical visit to the body since a 1988 trip by St. John Paul II. In his address, Pope Francis—the first non-European pope in centuries—touched on the crisis of confidence afflicting a region that is struggling to forge a new economic and social model in the wake of a debilitating downturn.
“We encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe that is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant,” the pope told European lawmakers.
He underscored the discontent in many quarters with EU institutions that have often failed to provide solutions to the region’s malaise. “The great ideas that once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions,” he said.
Pope Francis warned that the European Union has strayed from the principles of “peace and fellowship” that inspired the founders of the EU after World War II, in light of the region’s treatment of migrants, soaring youth unemployment rates and “uncontrolled consumerism.”
“Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited,” he said. “How can hope in the future be restored so that, beginning with the younger generation, there can be a rediscovery of that confidence needed to pursue the great ideal of a united and peaceful Europe?”
The Argentinian-born pope has made opposition to unfettered capitalism a hallmark of his papacy, a message that could resonate among Europeans who are torn between much-cherished social welfare models and the need to make their economies more flexible and competitive globally. Pope Francis has frequently denounced a “throwaway culture” that he views as a frequent product of a free-market economic model, resulting in the abandonment of the elderly, a lost generation of unemployed young people and disparagement of the poor.
“The time has come to promote policies that create employment” by “joining market flexibility with the need for stability and security” for workers, he said.