The International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen will go to Pope Francis, the prize committee announced December 23. The prize is awarded for “exceptional work performed in the service of European unity,” the Charlemagne Prize website says.
While so many of the European Union’s founders saw their work through a Catholic lens, many today do not. Yet at this crucial juncture, as Europe struggles for unity, the one who has been singled out as offering hope for the future is the pope.
Europe has gone through seven years of “weaknesses, crises and setbacks” causing “a dramatic loss of confidence,” the prize committee stated. “In these times, in which many citizens in Europe seek orientation,” the pope “sends a message of love and encouragement.” The website says the award’s recipients are those “who most often work toward integration—and who are able to exercise a political influence.”
The Economist said that “the selectors are adamant that Pope Francis, more than anybody else, has breathed new life into the construction of Europe at a time when that effort was sagging” (Dec. 27, 2015).
It is not just the Charlemagne Prize Committee that sees this hope.
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is a think tank that helps German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union formulate policy. In November, the foundation produced a paper titled “Microstate and Superpower—The Vatican in International Politics.” “At first glance, the Vatican is a microstate without massive resources,” the authors wrote. “Be that as it may, it does have a great deal of symbolic power, not least thanks to it partially sharing its identity with a world religion, which makes it a superpower after all, religiously, culturally and socially.”
It specifically noted the power of the Vatican as a mediator and a unifier, saying it “has, in fact, been involved in central decision-making and events of world politics for a long time, acting patiently behind the scenes, particularly since the middle of the 20th century.”
The Vatican’s Prophesied Role
The church’s role in uniting Europe goes back further still. Charlemagne used the Catholic Church to unify his empire 1,200 years ago. As the Catholic Encyclopedia noted, Charlemagne’s legacy was “the idea of a Europe welded together out of various races under the spiritual influence of one Catholic faith and one vicar of Christ .…” In fact, Charlemagne used more than mere “spiritual influence” to spread this one faith—tribes of other faiths were massacred.
This is the heritage the Charlemagne Prize revives, and it’s one that European leaders are very familiar with. History shows them that the road to European unity goes through the Vatican. That same history can also show us where that road eventually leads. ▪
Full article: Europe’s Top Unifier (The Trumpet)