Addressing 27 European heads of state on March 24, Pope Francis said that the founders of the European Union rightly understood that “the heart of the European political project could only be man himself.

In 1957, the Pontiff recalled, European leaders were “full of hope and expectation, enthusiasm and apprehension.” The founders of the European community, he said, had a goal that went beyond economic alliance:

The founding fathers remind us that Europe is not a conglomeration of rules to obey, or a manual of protocols and procedures to follow. It is a way of life, a way of understanding man based on his transcendent and inalienable dignity, as something more than simply a sum of rights to defend or claims to advance.

Unlike his predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who had frequently warned against the lost of Europe’s shared Christian identity, Pope Francis did not focus on that theme. He devoted only one paragraph of his lengthy speech to the Christian heritage, quoting Alcide de Gasperi, one of the principal founders of the European community, who said that “at the origin of European civilization there is Christianity.”

In the remainder of the speech the Pontiff spoke more generally about the foundation of European society. He said that the “pillars” of the European community are “the centrality of man, effective solidarity, openness to the world, the pursuit of peace and development, openness to the future.”