Pope Francis has been awarded the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, the oldest and best-known prize awarded for work done in the service of European unification. The Pope will receive the award on 6th May, in the impressive Sala Regia, in Vatican Palaces, in Rome. One of the photos I took to Sala Regia in 2014 is now featured in the Official Brochure that has been published for the event: the Sala Regia, as the Sala Ducale, aren’t generally open to visitors: they usually host consistories, conferences, papal hearings or special events. It’s a great honour for me : I had the opportunity to visit Sala Regia in the same day I met the Pope for the presentation of “Francesco” (“Francis”), the illustrated and historical biography I wrote about him.
Marcel Philipp, Lord Mayor of Aachen, stated: “We are delighted by the overwhelming response to this year’s recipient of the Charlemagne Prize. Considering the current political situation, it is no easy task to distinguish a personality who supports and promotes the grand European project with commitment, clarity and, at the same time, constructive criticism. The Charlemagne Prize Board of Directors is grateful to His Holiness Pope Francis for agreeing to accept the Charlemagne Prize and, in doing so, for setting an invaluable example for the common goal of all Europeans. We are honoured to present our award to a man who inspires hope, an ambassador of peace and togetherness in a strong Europe, a man whose words carry weight and are listened to attentively by the whole world”.
The Prize is named for Charlemagne, the Franconian king revered by his contemporaries as the “Father of Europe. A press release by the Prize Committee said that Pope Francis has sent “a message of hope and encouragement” at a time in which “many citizens in Europe are seeking orientation. The Pope is a witness for a community based on values which include a sense of humanity, the protection of resources and dialogue between cultures and religions at a European level. The Committee explains that in “recent years Europe has experienced great weaknesses, crises and setbacks” that have seriously pushed back “all the achievements of the European process of integration.”
To all this Francis opposes a message of hope. Quoting from his discourse to the European Parliament in November 2014, the communiqué says the Pope’s message is a wake-up call for Europe: “The time has come for us to abandon the idea of a Europe which is fearful and self-absorbed… The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values.” The Pope – said Marcel Philipp, the Mayor of Aachen speaking to the press upon the announcement of the Award – is the “voice of conscience” that demands we put people at the center of our concerns, “he is an extraordinary moral authority.”