In 1957, six European nations agreed on a single economic market that laid the groundwork for the European Union, bringing together a continent that in the previous decade had been shattered by total war.
On Monday, some sixty years after those six countries signed Treaty of Rome, Pope Francis reminded diplomats of the agreement’s importance as he called for a new European humanism.
“Europe as a whole is experiencing a decisive moment in its history, one in which it is called to rediscover its proper identity. This requires recovering its roots in order to shape its future,” said the pope in the annual papal “state of the world” address.
“In response to currents of divisiveness, it is all the more urgent to update the idea of Europe, so as to give birth to a new humanism based on the capacity to integrate, dialogue and generate that made the Old Continent great,” he said.
Pope France’s annual foreign policy speech comes, as he noted in his address, at a time when Europe is in the midst of a migrant crisis, the threat of religious-inspired violence, and a shakeup through Brexit. The pope’s speech represents another effort on his part to urge peace and reconciliation in Europe and abroad.
The process of European unification "continues to be a unique opportunity for stability, peace and solidarity between peoples," he said. "On this occasion, I can only reaffirm the interest and concern of the Holy See for Europe and its future, conscious that the values that were the inspiration and basis of that project, which this year celebrates its 60th anniversary, are values common to the entire continent and transcend the borders of the European Union itself."
The pope’s call for unity in Europe comes just months before Britain is expect to begin the formal process of withdrawing from the EU. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March.
Speaking in front of diplomats from 180 countries in the Vatican on Monday, the pope also denounced “fundamentalists-inspired terrorism” in 2016, listing attacks by Islamist militants in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the United States.
He called such violence “homicidal madness, which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power,” and urged religious and political leaders to play their part in stopping it. The pope said such violence is “spiritual poverty” often borne out of material poverty. He said religious leaders should preach God’s message of love and peace and political leaders should ensure economic opportunities for young people.
In addition to safety, “government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism.”
Pope Francis’s speech is in line with his past remarks on Islamic extremism, nuclear weapons, and even the proliferation of fake news. Last month, the pope said that both the creation and spread of fake news is a sin, urging the media to do its part to stop it.
"The communications media have a very great responsibility. Nowadays they have in their hands the possibility and the capacity to form opinion: they can form a good or a bad opinion," the pope said in an interview with Belgian Catholic weekly, Tertio. He added, "Disinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do, as opinion is guided in one direction, neglecting the other part of the truth."
This warning wasn’t directed at just the media, but also those who post or repost harmful stories through social media.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.