POPE Francis is in Strasbourg today to talk to the European parliament and the Council of Europe.
The visit is in a political capacity, as the head of the Vatican state, rather than as the head of the Catholic Church – however he plans a religious visit next year.
The Pope is expected to raise issues related to the treatment of immigrants, justice and the economic crisis.
He will be at the parliament from 10.30 and making a formal speech at 11.15 before the MEPs who are meeting formally in a “plenary session”, when all MEPs are meant to attend. He is then expected to talk with the presidents of all the EU institutions.
The Pope will then be speaking at 12.40 at the Council of Europe – a body which represents 47 states of the continent of Europe and is separate from the EU. It is an advisory body promoting cooperation in areas including law and human rights, culture and democracy. It is linked to the European Court of Human Rights.
This flying visit – his plane landed at 10.00 and he is to leave at 13.50 – is expected to see the Pope address the bodies in Italian, the everyday language of the Vatican, rather than using French, its traditional diplomatic one, as Jean-Paul II did on the last papal visit to the European bodies in 1988.
A Femen militant climbed onto the altar in Strasbourg Cathedral yesterday with “anti-secular Europe” written on her chest, to protest against the visit. Left-wing MEP and Parti de Gauche president Jean-Luc Mélenchon also criticised it, sending an open letter to the Pope in which he said the visit goes against the “rules of secularism”.
Henri Madelin, author on Catholicism, priest and member of Catholic think tank on European issues the Jesuit European Office, told Le Point that secularism meant “pluralism” and that the Pope would among other things be speaking out against servility towards the interests of big finance. As a South American, who does not know Europe well and has mainly focussed on other parts of the world so far in his visits, he said it is also a chance for him to get a better grasp on the problems of the continent.