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'Migrants need acceptance,' Pope Francis tells EU

Christian Hartmann, AFP | Pope Francis addresses the European Parliament at the institution's headquarters in Strasbourg, November 25, 2014.

In a historic visit to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament, Pope Francis on Tuesday urged leaders to be more accepting of immigrants and to adopt a united response to the problems posed by the influx to the continent.

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Addressing European MPs in Italian, Pope Francis said “we cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. Migrants need acceptance,” in reference to their often tragic journeys from North Africa to Europe.

He said current state-by-state strategies to control migration failed to take into consideration the human dignity of people seeking better lives far away from their native lands.

In a speech laying out his vision for Europe two decades after the late pope John Paul II travelled to Strasbourg to address a continent still divided by the Cold War, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church also urged Europe to embrace its Christian roots.

The pontiff said he wanted to deliver a message of “hope and encouragement” to a continent that often gave the impression of being “elderly and tired.”

He said Europe needed to embrace its identity rooted in Christianity, and use it to forge ahead. He added that recognising its religious past was not a threat to the secularist nature of the European Union or to its institutions.

In what could be interpreted as a nod to more conservative quarters of the church, the pope said that families had to be protected and complained that individual rights were taking precedent over the “common good” of society.

He did not directly address recent legislative changes in European countries concerning gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia.

Creative potential

He often returned to the issue of Europe’s struggling economies during the nearly 40-minute speech.

“You must promote policies that will create jobs, but that will also restore dignity to work,” he said, warning that globalisation threatened to turn people into interchangeable “cogs in a machine.”

Pope Francis said that opulence often on display in developed countries threatened to make people indifferent to the vast poverty around them.

He insisted that there was great creative potential in Europe, especially in the areas of science, and urged leaders to turn their attention to ways of protecting the environment.

While brief, the pope’s visit to Strasbourg did not avoid a measure of controversy, with some critics slamming European Parliament head Martin Schulz for inviting a religious leader to address a secular body.

Before the pontiff’s highly-profile speech, a Femen rights group demonstrator mounted the altar in Strasbourg's famed cathedral on Monday while flashing her naked torso and waving the EU flag. The words “Anti-secular Europe,” were scrawled across her breasts, and “The Pope is Not a Politician” on her back.

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