It was a rare visit from a Pope to an institution that prides itself on its secular nature.
But the EU is in crisis and many here will admit it needs help to redefine its relevance.
Before a packed chamber of MEPs, the Pope pulled no punches.
“Despite a larger and stronger union Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even at times suspicion.” He said.
He claimed his was a message of hope but he clearly feels Europe has lost its way. It has forgotten its religious roots he said, should do more to support human dignity and reconnect with people who no longer trust it.
“we encounter selfish lifestyles marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us and especially to the poorest of the poor.”
This was a critical speech. In a time of economic stagnation the Pope urged EU leaders to create jobs, he criticised a throwaway culture, spoke of the elderly being abandoned and of unborn children being killed in the womb, of people becoming cogs in the machine of the global economy. He spoke of increasing loneliness, and he reasserted the importance of the family. He referred to a vacuum of ideas.
Uncomfortable listening for some who were concerned that the Pope did not speak for all. Dutch MEP Sophia In’t Velt said the Pope spoke of human dignity while his Church was still denying women the right to make decisions about their own bodies.
“The Catholic Church is preaching that women should not have control over their own lives and on the other hand they say we want to fight poverty but the two cannot be reconciled, we should have been able to discuss these matters.”
The Pope also spoke about migration and the need for Europe to do more to welcome those in desperate need.
“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.” He said.
The Pope’s identification with the poor is well known. His demand for more and better jobs, for putting human needs above those of multi nationals will have appealed to many, but asking the EU to reverse what he called its “forgetfulness of God” will be more difficult to accept.