The city of Aachen (Germany) bestowed upon Pope John Paul II an extraordinary edition of the International Charlemagne Award, a prestigious award given annually by the city for distinguished service on behalf of European unity.
The award was bestowed upon the Holy Father on Wednesday afternoon at the Vatican by Jurgen Linden, the mayor of Aachen and by Walter Evershein, president of the executive council of the Charlemagne Award.
The Aachen Cathedral Choir performed at both the opening and the conclusion of the ceremony.
The award is named for the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, viewed as a symbol of European unity due to the vast expanse of his kingdom, which included several modern-day European countries.
The award has been given every year since 1950.
The committee which announced the award on January 22 cited the Pope’s “extraordinary contribution to the process of European integration, but also his particular effort to exert an influence from Europe on the shaping of the world order.” His role in bringing down the Iron Curtain that once divided the continent was also noted.
Upon receiving the award, Pope John Paul addressed the assembly in German, sharing his vision of European unity.
“Aware that the union of Europe means much to the Catholic Church, you have come to pay homage to the Successor of Peter” with this prize “which, for good reason, takes the name of the Emperor Charlemagne,” the Pontiff said.
“In fact, the king of the Franks, whose kingdom had Aachen as its capital, made an essential contribution to the political and cultural foundations of Europe and, for this, earned the name among his contemporaries of ‘Pater Europae’ (Father of Europe.)”
“The happy union of classical culture and the Christian faith with the traditions of various peoples took form in Charlemagne’s empire and was developed in various forms as the spiritual-cultural legacy of Europe throughout the centuries,” the Pope concluded.
He remarked that “as the Holy See is located in Europe, the Church has special relations with the people of this continent” and “has always taken part in the process of European integration.” Pius XII, he said, “explicitly supported the idea of the formation of a ‘European union’,” for which it would be “necessary to refer to Christianity as a factor which creates identity and unity.”
The Holy Father then spoke of his vision for European unity.
“I am thinking of a Europe without egotistical nationalism, where nations are seen as living centers of cultural riches that must be protected and promoted to everyone’s advantage. I am thinking of a Europe where advances in science, the economy and social well-being are not oriented towards consumerism” but rather serve mankind. “I am thinking of a Europe whose unity is based on true freedom” for “without freedom there is no sense of responsibility to God or man.”
“I am thinking,” he continued, “of a Europe united thanks to the commitment of young people. … But how can a young generation be born that is open to truth, beauty and nobility and what is worth making sacrifices for, if in Europe the family is no longer presented as an institution open to life and to unselfish love?”
“The Europe I have in mind,” concluded John Paul II, “is a political unity, a spiritual one in fact, in which Christian politicians from all countries act in the awareness of the human riches that faith brings with it: men and women committed to making these values fruitful, placing themselves at the service of everyone for a Europe of men in whom shines the face of God.”