Timely Visit Planned

The pope’s unprecedented invitation to speak before European Parliament

Pope John Paul ii scored a major victory recently when European Parliament head Pat Cox invited him to address the assembly. The visit, tentatively planned for the second half of this year, will occur at a vital time for the EU. The EU is facing not only massive enlargement in May 2004 to include 10 new members, but also the struggle of attempting to churn out an all-encompassing EU constitution—one which, to this point, has been marked by heated exchanges about references to religion.

The pope has, of course, repeatedly encouraged EU policymakers to formally recognize the church’s contribution to the building of the EU, and to enshrine its rights and the rights of its members in the constitution. Although an EU spokesman has said that the pope’s proposed trip is not directly linked to the current dispute over the future constitution, the facts nonetheless speak for themselves.

John Paul ii has been involved heavily in politics. He last visited the European Parliament in 1988 and, in the ensuing years, witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union—a process in which he played an integral role. The Vatican now maintains diplomatic relations with 177 countries; it participates in various other international organizations (the Arab League, the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States and the Organization for African Unity), and it has even been proposed that it should become a member of the United Nations, at which it is currently a permanent observer.

This all points to the Vatican as being an eminently political organization. Even this latest EU invitation attests to the fact: No other religious leader has ever been invited to address the political assembly of the EU. European Parliament spokesman David Harley indicated that the pope’s trip “would reflect his dual status as head of the Vatican state and as a ‘global spiritual leader’” (www.EUBusiness.com, Jan. 12).

The pope’s address to the European Parliament, should it occur as planned, will not be merely the innocuous, politically neutral visit that it might seem. The pope has himself said, “This new Europe is the bearer of the values which have borne fruit for 2,000 years in an art of thinking and living from which the whole world has benefited. … Among these values Christianity [Catholicism] holds a privileged position, inasmuch as it gave birth to a humanism which has permeated Europe’s history and institutions. …

“A Europe which disavowed its past, which denied the fact of religion, and which had no spiritual dimension, would be extremely impoverished in face of the ambitious project which calls upon all its energies: constructing a Europe for all!” (zenit, Jan. 13).