In an audience at the Vatican on Saturday morning, May 22, Pope Francis received the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who subsequently met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
The Pope and the European Commission President spoke privately for about 30 minutes. According to the statement by the Holy See Press Office: “During the cordial discussions, reference was made to the good bilateral relations, recently advanced thanks to the structured dialogue between the parties, and the current initiatives for the 50th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the European Union and the Holy See.”
Then attention “turned to the theme of the human and social development of the continent, with a view to the recently initiated Conference on the future of Europe. The parties then considered some issues of common interest, such as the social consequences of the pandemic, migration and climate change, and the recent developments in the Middle East”.
At the time of the exchange of gifts, Ursula von der Leyen gave Pope Francis a copy of the 1950 Schuman Declaration and a two-volume edition of the History of the European Union. The Pope reciprocated with the documents of his pontificate together with the Message for the World Day of Peace and the Document on Human Brotherhood, signed in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Francis also gave her a bronze medallion with the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The desert it will become a garden” (32:15).
On the same day, Ursula von der Layen, who is Lutheran, gave an interview to Vatican News. She said she was «deeply grateful for Laudato Si’ and the positive push it gave (…) Laudato si’ has really been a wake-up call”.
About Vatican and EU, she answered: “The relations between the Holy See, the Vatican, and the European Union are excellent. After 50 years this shows how much we are like-minded. The good cooperation is based on sharing the same values, working for peace, for solidarity, and for the dignity of the human being. And of course, we are following very closely the important topic of the Vatican, the globalization of solidarity, which is very close to our hearts. We are very grateful for the Vatican’s interest in our Conference on the Future of Europe. These are just a few topics that demonstrate how intense and how good the relations are”.
To mark 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the European Union and the Holy See, the EU Delegation in Rome, in collaboration with the EU Member States’ Embassies accredited to the Holy See, is organizing the Iter Europaeum in May and June. Each country of EU has chosen a church in Rome to which it is particularly attached for historical reasons or because of the links with their community. The initiative was launched on Schuman Day, 9 May 2021: a sign in the path of fraternity in Europe, that is a major concern for the Pope.
It is also relevant to remark on the good bilateral relations between Holy See and EU, that on on the eve of the Europe Day 2021, Pope Francis appointed His Excellency Aldo Giordano as Apostolic Nuncio to the European Union. Previously he was Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (2007–2013) and Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela (2013–2021), besides which he served as Secretary-General of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe from for 1995 to 2005. Msgr. Giordano, a 62-year-old from Italy, succeeds Msgr. Alain Paul Lebeaupin, who ended his tenure in November of 2020.
The new Apostolic Nuncio declared in an interview with the Sir news agency, on the eve of the opening of the Conference on the future of Europe: “I believe that Europe’s identity and roots remain a decisive issue, as is Europe’s relationship with the rest of the world. Only a Europe with strong roots can play a significant role in global geopolitics, maintain a sound relationship with religions and tackle the major challenge of migration. In a tragic way, the virus has shown us that we are all in the same boat: either we save ourselves together or together we will fall into an abyss. The very dreams underlying the establishment of the European Union remain, namely: to contribute to peace, to human fraternity, to an economy that will not let people die of hunger, to environmental protection and care. It should be remembered that Europe has a remarkable cultural and artistic heritage for humanity to enjoy”.
Luciano Larivera SJ
JESC Secretary for European Affairs