STRASBOURG, France (AP) — Pope Francis sought Thursday to inspire an old and "haggard" Europe to find its vigor and greatness once again, urging European governments to welcome migrants, care for the elderly and create jobs for the unemployed.
Francis outlined his vision for the continent in a pair of speeches to the European Parliament and Council of Europe a quarter-century after St. John Paul II travelled to Strasbourg to address a continent still divided by the Iron Curtain.
Greeted with polite applause at the start of his speech and a sustained standing ovation at its finish, Francis said he wanted to bring a message of hope to Europeans distrustful of their institutions, burdened by economic crisis and spiritually adrift in a culture that he said no longer values the dignity of human beings.
"A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul," he said.
He called for Europe to find its footing once again, saying it had once been driven by an "insatiable thirst" for knowledge, peace and unity. Specifically, Francis called for legislators to promote policies that create jobs and accept immigrants.
"We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!" he said.
The Argentine Jesuit has frequently spoken out about the plight of migrants seeking a better life in Europe. He travelled to the tiny island of Lampedusa in the summer of 2013 to show solidarity with the migrants who arrive and to honor those who have died trying — a number that Italian officials estimate to be more than 2,000 in 2014 alone.
On Tuesday, Francis warned that the absence of a coherent EU migration policy "contributes to slave labor and continuing social tensions." He called for Europeans to enact legislation that ensures immigrants are accepted and to adopt "fair, courageous and realistic policies" toward their countries of origins, to help them resolve the conflicts that fuel migration.
Parliament President Martin Schulz told the assembly that their level of applause was a strong indication that Francis' words were heard. Turning to Francis, he added: "You are a person who gives us guidance at a time when we have lost our compass."
After the warm welcome at the Parliament building, Francis traveled a brief distance away to the Council of Europe, which is separate from the EU and made up of national lawmakers from 47 member nations.
Council Secretary-General Thorbjoern Jagland, a Norwegian who also heads the Nobel Peace prize committee, said "excluded people" in Europe — such as the young unemployed, the homeless, immigrants, Roma and other minorities facing discrimination — "are not a burden or a threat to society. They are an enormous unused resource."
Anti-immigration parties, which the pope was indirectly addressing with his message of welcome, sought to spin the pontiff's comments.
European lawmaker Nigel Farage of Britain, who wants his country to leave the EU, said Francis was "a with-it, up-to-date pope" who had explained that the European project initially had some high-minded ideas, but "has gone badly wrong."
Others bristled at the pope's appearance. Left-wing French lawmaker Jean-Luc Melenchon sat out the pope's address to emphasize the need for a separation of religion and politics.
Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.
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(An earlier version of this story misspelled the byline of Jamey Keaten.)