Pope Francis addresses Vatican crowds prior to colon surgery
The Pontiff turns 85 today, having last Monday marked the 52nd anniversary of his priestly ordination. People across the world will today celebrate his birthday, with messages and well wishes flooding the Vatican. Cardinal Michael Czerny, a fellow Jesuit and the under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in a statement said: “The 17th of December is a day worth reflecting on.”
He added that the Holy Father must have already had retirement plans when he went into the conclave that elected him Pope in 2013, but “the Holy Spirit decided differently.”
He continued: “The intervening years are a free gift ‒ gratuitous.
“I think that highlights our feelings, which is that we can only be very grateful.”
Pope Francis has become one of the most outspoken religious figures of the modern era.
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Several times he has both offered and received criticism on a number of issues, including his comments on divorce being “morally necessary”.
More recently, he has hit out at the EU and the direction it has found itself moving in.
In 2017, his strongest words came when he suggested that the bloc “risks dying” without a new vision.
The Pope was speaking in Rome at an EU summit to highlight the 60th anniversary of the bloc’s foundation.
In an address to European leaders, he claimed the EU faced a “vacuum of values” and was losing its “sense of direction”.
He said: “When a body loses its sense of direction and is no longer able to look ahead, it experiences a regression and, in the long run, risks dying.”
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Celebrations among the European leaders gathered had been muted by uneasiness due to prolonged economic crises.
The Pope said that the boom in anti-EU parties across Europe could herald a growing split between citizens and their representative institutions.
He also said greater international solidarity was the “most effective antidote to modern forms of populism”.
Mentioning the London Bridge terror attack, he said leaders needed to work together to promote Europe’s “patrimony of ideals and spiritual values” with greater passion.
He continued: “For it is the best antidote against the vacuum of values of our time, which provides a fertile terrain for every form of extremism.”
The Pontiff also criticised the EU’s response to the refugee crisis, the worst of which was observed in 2015, when thousands of desperate people made their way across the Mediterranean Sea.
He added: “It is not enough to handle the grave crisis of immigration of recent years as if it were a mere numerical or economic problem, or a question of security.”
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It was not the only time the Pope would criticise Brussels.
This month, he slammed controversial efforts by the European Commission to make official communications more inclusive, comparing recently withdrawn guidelines on using terms like “Christmas” and “Christian” to the actions of historic dictatorships.
He said: “In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do this kind of thing.
“Think of Napoleon … think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one.
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“It is something that throughout history hasn’t worked.”
His words came a week after the Commission abruptly pulled back its 30-page guide aimed at ensuring no European felt excluded from EU communications following a storm of criticism from many far-right and conservative politicians.
These were targeted particularly over the suggestion that staff members “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian” and celebrates Christmas.
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The Pope denounced this as what he called “watered-down secularism” and urged the EU to reflect on the ideals of its founders.
He said: “[Brussels must] be careful not to take the path of ideological colonisation, which could end up dividing countries and [causing] the European Union to fail.
“The European Union must respect each country’s internal structure, its variety and not try to make them uniform — I don’t think it will do that, it wasn’t its intention, but it must be careful.”