Address to His Holiness Pope Francis
Strasbourg, Tuesday 25 November 2014

Your Holiness,

It is a great honour that falls to me to thank you on behalf of the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly for taking up our invitation to bring us your message in this assembly chamber of the Home of Democracy and Human Rights, the Home of dialogue.

Whatever our personal beliefs and convictions, our Organisation, with its representatives of 47 countries, all of differing faiths or atheist or agnostic, is infinitely grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and putting pertinent questions to Europe as regards our vigour, our idealism and our sense of curiosity and enterprise.

We gratefully welcome your commitment to upholding the values underpinning the European Convention on Human Rights, values that unite Europeans. Our aim is to build a united Europe on the basis of common values while respecting our diversity; that is what constitutes our strength and our great asset.

In your address today and in your homily in Lampedusa last July you condemned what you called "globalised indifference" - a culture of individual comfort resulting in our societies becoming ever less sensitive to the suffering of others.  The German philosopher Karl Jaspers said that indifference is the mildest form of intolerance.  Our common objective must be to reverse that "globalised indifference".  The process of globalisation must be humanised and democratised.

We particularly appreciate your commitment to migrants and the most vulnerable.  Our societies have a duty to help people fleeing conflicts, famine and repression and share the responsibility, regardless of where they come from.

The religious dimension of intercultural dialogue is at the heart of our preoccupations.  I am infinitely grateful to you for your proposal to create a new agora to serve as a platform for dialogue and exchange.  This dialogue is more important than ever, in a context where some are preaching violence and seeking to justify the most grave human rights violations in the name of faith, which discredits entire communities and cultures and negates the very essence of religion.

The only means of countering that tendency is to stay united.  The representatives of all religions and secular movements must, together, refute all forms of violence and hatred.  We must demolish the idea that religion could provide any possible justification for human rights violations and state loud and clear that such an idea is a dangerous aberration.

Your Holiness,

Your desire to challenge certain traditions has our full backing.  But we all know that any push for reform also needs determination, persuasion and perseverance to overcome resistance.  One example very close to my heart is that it has taken decades for our respective countries to achieve formal equality between women and men.  Today - 25 November - is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and we can see that we still have a long road to travel in order to arrive at true equality that is not just proclaimed in law but applied and implemented by those in charge of our institutions.

Your Holiness,

We know that our values and principles are under greater threat than ever before.  We have an obligation and duty to defend them. We can succeed in this endeavour only if we act together.  Twenty-five years ago, His Holiness Pope John Paul II helped to bring down the Berlin Wall that was dividing our continent.  There are still many walls throughout the world today and we are well aware of the risk that new ones could be built. These are not just walls of brick but, perhaps even worse, walls in our minds. Together, we must break them down and stop new partitions going up. To do otherwise would be to betray our core missions.