Pope Francis, left, listens to E.U. Parliament President Martin Schulz at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in eastern France, Nov. 25, 2014.
Pope Francis, left, listens to E.U. Parliament President Martin Schulz at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in eastern France, Nov. 25, 2014.

Pope Francis, in the first papal address ever to the European Union parliament, urged the 28-member bloc to support a courageous, open and humanitarian immigration policy, saying they must do more to stop the Mediterranean becoming “a vast cemetery.”

Francis also said Europe should create jobs and not allow the bureaucracy of its institutions to suffocate the ideals that once made it vibrant.

Francis received standing ovations during speeches before the European Parliament and the Council of Europe Tuesday in Strasbourg, France. In both places, he called upon a weary Europe to wake up and re-embrace its principles of human rights and democracy.

The Argentine pope has made defense of migrants and workers a key plank of his papacy.

Undocumented migrants

As Francis spoke of the plight of migrants on Tuesday, Greece was sending a frigate to rescue a container ship believed to carrying hundreds of undocumented migrants and in distress off its southern island of Crete, the Greek coast guard said.

The Kiribati-flagged vessel, with about 700 people aboard, was sailing 30 nautical miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Crete. The ship reported an engine problem in an area with strong winds, although a coast guard spokesman said there was no immediate danger to the ship.

Greece is a popular entry point into Europe for thousands of undocumented migrants from Asia and Africa.

“There needs to be a united response to the question of migration. We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said.

“The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance,” Francis said, calling on European powers to work together to protect immigrants from human traffickers.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 3,200 migrants have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2014.

'Losing its soul'

The pope also urged EU lawmakers to "keep democracy alive."

Francis warned against a political and economic union that puts bureaucracy ahead of great ideas. He said he wanted to bring a message of hope to a demoralized Europe that risks "losing its soul" and humanistic spirit.

On Tuesday, he called for a Europe that “revolves not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person.”

“The time has come to promote policies which create employment, but above all there is a need to restore dignity to labor by ensuring proper working conditions,” the pope said.

“This implies, on the one hand, finding new ways of joining market flexibility with the need for stability and security on the part of workers; these are indispensable for their human development,” he said.

Unemployment is about 10.1 percent in the 28-nation European Union and about 11.5 in the 18-nation euro zone. It is more than double that level in Spain and Greece and youth unemployment is more than 40 percent in some areas.

At the 47-member Council of Europe, an institution separate from the European Union, the pope spoke of the threat of conflict and terrorism that confront nations in the 21st century.

Francis stressed the importance of defending the Council's founding principles of peace, freedom and human dignity, which are the foundation of Europe's top rights court, the European Court of Human Rights.

Lisa Bryant contributed to this report from Paris. Some material for this article came from Reuters.