Robert Schuman, a French statesman who paved the way for the bloc that eventually evolved into European Union, has been advanced on the Catholic church’s path toward possible sainthood.
According to the Vatican, Pope Francis approved a decree on Saturday declaring the “heroic virtues″ of Schuman, a former prime minister and foreign minister for France after World War II.
In 1950, while serving in the latter role, Schuman developed a plan to promote European economic unity in the hope of furthering lasting peace on the continent.
Schuman died in 1963 after serving as the first president of the forerunner of the European Parliament.
The pope's assent already means that Schuman can be called ”venerable” by the Catholic faithful. It is one of several steps in a usually long process that can result in sainthood.
The European Commission's website describes Schuman as “one of the founding fathers of European unity',' hailing him as ”the architect of the project of European integration."
The Vatican also described Schuman as a man of Catholic faith.
“Behind the action of the public man," it said, "there was the interiority of the man who lived the sacraments, who, when he could, would take to an abbey, who would reflect on the sacred Word before finding the shape of his political words."
Born in Luxembourg in 1886 to a Luxembourgian mother and a French father in an area annexed by Germany, Schuman was a German citizen at birth. After World War I, when the area was returned to France, he became a French citizen.
As a lawyer and member of the French National Assembly, Schuman was arrested in 1940 by the Gestapo after the German occupation of France, but he escaped in 1942. The European Commission biography of him also notes his activity in the French Resistance.
After the war, Schuman served as finance minister, prime minister, foreign minister and minister of justice.
On May 9, 1950, Schuman gave a speech pitching cooperation between European nations to help converge their economic interests. Such cooperation, especially involving France and Germany, he argued, would make another war on the continent both unthinkable and impossible.
His plan helped see the realization of the 1952 European Coal and Steel Community, a forerunner of the Common Market formed in 1958.
Last year, noting the 70th anniversary of his speech, which became known as the Schuman Declaration, Francis praised the statesman's legacy. Francis said from that point on there came “a long period of stability and peace which we benefit from today.”