At a private ceremony in the Vatican, Pope Francis has been awarded the Charlemagne Prize of Aachen for his services to Europe. In his speech, the pontiff rebuked Europe for its handling of the refugee crisis.
Speaking at Friday's ceremony, the chairman of the Charlemagne Prize board, Jürgen Linden, praised the pope for his outstanding commitment to "peace, understanding and mercy."
Having unexpectedly decided to accept the award, the Argentine pontiff called upon the memory of the EU's founding figures and the aftermath of the Second World War, saying they had "dared to radically change the models" that had led to war.
"Today, more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls," the pope said.
"I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being," the 79-year-old added.
"Europe should be an open and multicultural society, welcoming refugees and helping young people start a family by offering adequate job opportunities," Francis said.
Also attending the award service on Friday was German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other previous winners, including European Parliament President Martin Schulz and EU President Jean-Claude Juncker. Merkel and Schulz both had private audiences with Francis in the run-up to the ceremony.
Since 1950, the Charlemagne Prize ("Karlspreis" in German) has been awarded to personalities and institutions that have rendered outstanding services to the unification of Europe. The first winners included former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and longtime German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. On Friday, Pope Francis became the 58th recipient of the award.
Friday marked only the second time that the prestigious prize was awarded outside of Aachen town hall in western Germany. In 2004, the accolade was awarded to Pope John Paul II, again in the Vatican, where he received the "extraordinary Charlemagne prize."
ksb/msh (Reuters, dpa)