Catholics gather at Strasbourg Cathedral to watch pope’s visit

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Pope Francis launched a blistering attack Tuesday on a “haggard” Europe, urging it to reclaim global leadership, while local catholics gathered at France’s Strasbourg Cathedral to watch the pontiff’s visit on a big screen. Duration: 00:51

Catholics gather at Strasbourg Cathedral to watch pope's visit

Pope tells ‘haggard’ Europe to lead again

by Jean-Louis DE LA VAISSIERE

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ATTENTION – ADDS Council of Europe speech ///

STRASBOURG, France, Nov 25, 2014 (AFP) – Pope Francis launched a blistering attack Tuesday on a “haggard” Europe, urging it to reclaim global leadership after years of crisis and to take in migrants before the Mediterranean becomes a “vast cemetery”.

During a lightning visit to Strasbourg, the Argentine pontiff used speeches to the European Parliament and Council of Europe to press home the need for urgent economic and social change.

It was the first papal visit to the French city since John-Paul II in 1988, but where his predecessor came at the end of the Cold War, Francis faces a more secular and eurosceptic continent riven by tensions.

“Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness,” the 77-year-old pope told the European parliament.

“We encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother’, no longer fertile and vibrant.”

The pope reserved some of his strongest language for calling for a “united response” to the plight of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa, more than 3,200 of whom have died trying to reach Europe this year alone.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!” he said.

“The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance,” he said.

The pope’s comments come months after anti-EU and anti-immigration parties made gains in the European Parliament elections in May.

– Bells ring out –

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The crowd-loving Francis unusually left his popemobile behind and dedicated his time to addressing the two European institutions on his four-hour trip, the shortest abroad by any pope.

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics received long standing ovations after his speeches, which come amid a tide of growing economic despair, euroscepticism and anti-immigrant feeling across the continent.

Bells rang out from Catholic churches across Strasbourg to mark his visit, including the historic city-centre cathedral, where hundreds of the faithful watched his speech on giant screens set up in front of the building.

Looking tired and pale, Francis stood alongside European Parliament President Martin Schulz as flags were raised and a military band played the Hymn for Europe.

Francis also met briefly with new European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and outgoing European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, as well as with British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage.

Security was tight across Strasbourg with snipers posted on the top of buildings and army sniffer dogs sent out to check the area before his arrival by plane from the Vatican, AFP journalists said.

“It’s an important moment to see the sovereign pontiff in front of us,” Julien, 25, a Catholic telecoms employee, said as he waited outside the Council of Europe, a pan-European organisation set up after World War II to promote human rights and democracy.

– ‘Tired and pessimistic’ –

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But it was political and not religious matters that dominated the pope’s speeches.

In his address to the council, Francis, the first non-European pontiff for centuries, warned that the continent was becoming a spectator instead of a leader in an increasingly turbulent world.

He warned against a “Europe which is a bit tired and pessimistic, which feels besieged by events and winds of change coming from other continents”.

The pope also appeared to allude to the crisis in Ukraine, calling for a “political solution” to end “tensions” in Europe that were still claiming lives.

“How great a toll of suffering and death is still being exacted on this continent, which yearns for peace yet so easily falls back into the temptations of the past,” he said.

Francis also spoke out against “religious and international terrorism” in Europe and elsewhere.

The pope also spoke out on hot-button topics such as abortion and euthanasia — particularly after a slew of recent legislative changes in European countries

His visit had sparked protests in some quarters — including from a bare-breasted Femen rights group demonstrator who mounted the altar in Strasbourg cathedral on Monday — with critics angry over Schulz’s decision to invite a religious leader to address a secular body.

Welcoming the pope, Schulz told parliament that his visit was important at a time when the economic crisis had caused a “tremendous loss of confidence in the European institutions”.

Tags : visit, Popes, watch, Cathedral, Strasbourg, Gather, catholics

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