Pope John Paul II sailed on a polluted river and toured a historically contested city here Sunday to plead for the environment, to denounce racism and anti-Semitism and to warn the rich against becoming prisoners of their possessions.
A papal struggle to shore up a flagging French church underlay John Paul’s seven-speech, 13-hour barnstorm of this prosperous Germanic-style city in the Alsace region of eastern France.
France, with a population nearly the same as neighboring Italy’s, has only about half as many priests, and their median age is 65. About 84% of France’s 55 million people call themselves Roman Catholics, but fewer than 20% are regular churchgoers.
On a splendid autumn Sunday, John Paul rode a river boat along the wind-whipped Rhine, a key but polluted commercial lifeline between Central and Western Europe.
Addressing the French, Dutch and West German crews of crafts that ply what he called “the aortal artery of Europe,” the Pope lamented the environmental costs of “imprudent or excessive use.”
Respect for Nature Urged
“It is my wish that the positive efforts undertaken to combat pollution in the Rhine should be continued. Nature has been put at our disposal; we must know how to be wise and respectful stewards of a good which must keep its fecundity for future generations,” said the Pope in asserting an environmental cause that has been one of the themes of his current trip.
Nearly 300 boats a day transport about 10 million tons of cargo yearly in and out of Strasbourg, a solid and well-scrubbed city of 250,000. The papal visit coincides with the 2,000th anniversary of a city born as garrison for the Roman Legion VIII.
After seesaw centuries as a focus of French and German ambitions, the rich Alsace and Lorraine regions, annexed by Germany in 1871, were most recently restored to France after World War I. Strasbourg now advertises itself as a city that has matured beyond trauma into a sophisticated blend of French flair and German efficiency.
Whisked by Popemobile past enthusiastic, well-dressed crowds to a meeting with two dozen leaders of Strasbourg’s important Jewish community Sunday evening, the Pope evoked the past, asserting: “We must discard any religious prejudice that history has shown us as inspired by anti-Jewish stereotypes, or in contradiction with the dignity of each person.
“I repeat once again with you the strongest condemnation of all anti-Semitism and of all racism, which are opposed to the principles of Christianity, and for which there exist no justification in the cultures that would be tempted to refer to them,” John Paul told the Jewish leaders.
As he often does in addressing audiences in affluent countries, the Pope reminded well-shod thousands at a Mass in a soccer stadium Sunday morning that wealth is seldom synonymous with sanctity.
“In Europe, a ‘Christian’ continent, the moral sense is weakening, the very word commandment is often rejected. In the name of freedom, the rules are rejected, the moral teaching of the church is ignored,” the Pope complained.
Today, John Paul visits the industrial cities of Nancy and Metz in eastern France. Tuesday, in what is expected to be the centerpiece of his fourth visit to France and his 40th foreign trip, the 68-year-old pontiff will address the Parliament of the 12-nation European Communities before returning to Rome.