EU chiefs line up for John Paul II beatification

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Sunday's (1 May) beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II will be attended by EU officials at the highest level, with Herman Van Rompuy, José Manuel Barroso and Jerzy Buzek all expected in Rome to mark the occasion. By contrast, most EU heads of state have instead chosen to mark Labour Day.

Hundreds of thousands of Catholics are expected in Rome on Sunday to attend the beatification of John Paul II, who is widely recognised as one of the most influential religious leaders of the twentieth century and a driving force behind Europe's transition to post-communist rule.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, his Vice-President Antonio Tajani and Parliament President Jerzy Buzek are all expected to attend the ceremony, EurAcitv has learned.

Former Pope John Paul II, who was born in 1920 in Poland as Karol Józef Wojty?a, was seen as instrumental in ending communism in his country and eventually in Europe

The Vatican beatification ceremony is billed as a strictly religious event, and represents a major step on the road to declaring the former Pope a saint. With this in mind, the Vatican has confirmed that John Paul II worked a miracle by healing a French nun afflicted with Parkinson's disease.

Asked why President Barroso had opted to attend the beatification rite on International Labour Day, Commission spokesperson Olivier Bailly said today (28 April) that Barroso had answered favourably to this invitation in the same way as he attended Jonh Paul II's funeral in 2005.

"The reason is extremely simple. The Commission and the Commission president would like to pay tribute to the role played by John Paul II in European history and in the developments of democracy and freedom at the end of the twentieth century in Europe," he said.

No matter how religious the character of the ceremony, EU representatives wanted to pay homage to the role played by John Paul II in freeing Europe from communism, Bailly insisted.

"The Commission considers that John Paul II has played an outstanding role in opening up countries that were under the Soviet Union's yoke," he explained.

EURACTIV spoke to the Vatican's services but could not obtain a full list of the EU heads of state and government expected to attend the beatification ceremony.

According to press reports, Polish President Bronis?aw Komorowski and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk are both planning to attend, as well as French Prime Minister François Fillon and Toomas Ilves, the president of Estonia.

The presence of the Polish leaders hardly comes as a surprise. According to Polish media reports, around 80,000 Poles are expected to attend the beatification of their illustrious compatriot.

But several other heads of state and government, including those of Catholic countries, appear to have opted to attend Labour Day-related events in their own countries instead.

The attendance of three of the EU's highest-ranking officials may come as a surprise to many. But there are deep-seated explanations for this. The strong Catholic roots of Council President Herman Van Rompuy are well known and Barroso comes from a pious Catholic country, Portugal. Meanwhile, Parliament President Buzek, although himself a protestant, is a compatriot of the former Pope and his presence was to be expected.

More significantly, all of them belong to the European People's Party (EPP), which has long been a forceful promoter of the EU's Christian roots and values.

French government spokesperson François Baroin commented on the presence of Prime Minister François Fillon in Rome by saying that "France is the elderly daughter of the Church".

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Asked to comment, Parliament President Jerzy Buzek provided the following quote trough his service:

"John Paul II provided inspiration not only religiously and spiritually, but also politically.  He played an important role in bringing about the fall of Communism and, hence, in the reunification of Europe."

Asked to comment, Philip Cordery, General Secretary of the Party of European Socialists (PES) said:

"At a time when millions of jobs are being lost, the 1 May is the day to show commitment to jobs and growth."

Debates about European identity have intensified in recent years in the context of the EU's Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. 

The motto "unity in diversity" is generally seen as best describing the aims of the EU, but opinions differ widely as to how it should be understood (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'European Values and Identity'). 

The Berlin Declaration, adopted in 2007 to mark the EU's 50th anniversary, underlined "common ideals" including the primacy of the individual, dignity, human rights and equality between men and women. 

Other values stressed by the declaration were peace and freedom, democracy and the rule of law, as well as tolerance and solidarity.

But the celebratory text did not mention God or the EU's Christian roots, after the Socialists opposed attempts by the centre-right to make any reference to those.

 

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