23 February 2020: Intergenerational Day in Brussels. 51 European citizens – young and old – members of two diverse Communities, which are part of the network Together for Europe, share a “discovery tour” of significant places.
Agnès Grenier writes from Brussels:
“During the Ottmaring meeting that marked the 20th anniversary of Together for Europe, I came to know Pierpaolo of the Pope John XXIII Community. Pierpaolo has recently asked me to help organize a guided visit to our city for a group of 51 young and older persons from all Europe. Philippe and I, members of the Focolare Movement, immediately accepted to act as guides. In spite of the rainy and cold weather, we did our best to help our new friends discover some aspects of the European realities present in the Belgian Capital City.
For example, in the Parlamentarium we could follow the various stages of the integration of Europe; we also saw how the European Parliament functions and understood better the work that the MEPs carry out to face today’s challenges. We were all struck by the complexity of this structure and we understood how great and fundamental the intuition of the Founding Father of the European Union was to build new relationships of collaboration and trust between the various European Nations.
We then visited the Grande Place/Grote Markt, the historical City centre of Brussels. For many centuries it was the venue of political meetings, court sittings, cultural and religious festival, and even where capital punishments were carried out.
At the end of the day we felt enriched with so much history. Above all, however, we felt that the bonds that link the Focolare Movement and the Pope John XXIII Community have been strengthened: we felt as if we were one family. Together, we have enlivened a small expression of the European Union!”
Some time ago, before the covid-19 emergency, leaders of the Schönstatt Movement coming from seven European Countries have visited the International Centre of the Focolare Movement in Rocca di Papa, near Rome. They came from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. The group was accompanied by Fr Heinrich Walter, a former president of the General Presidium of Schönstatt and a member of the Steering Committee of Together for Europe.
The main objective of the visit was to “encounter Chiara Lubich”: they visited the places where she had lived and they also prayed at her tomb. Another objective was to hold a dialogue with some leaders at the Focolare Centre; one of these was Jesús Morán, the Co-president. They discussed the role of the Movements and their charisms in a context of ecclesial, political and cultural transformations in Europe. They also looked at the importance of the communion between the Movements, especially as part of the ecumenical network Together for Europe.
Both groups shared the view that the meeting and the dialogue were cordial, precious and fruitful. Obviously, this was yet another step forward in the long journey of communion and collaboration that Schönstatt and the Focolare have shared since Pentecost Eve of 1998 in St Peter’s Square, Rome, during the meeting for New Movements and Communities organized by John Paul II.
Walter Kriechbaum is an Evangelical Pastor and secretary of the YMCA of Bavaria. He has a soft spot for Europe and takes reconciliation seriously. To this end he has established friendships even in Poland and Ukraine within the international and ecumenical network Together for Europe.
“As a German, in my travels in Eastern Europe I’m often reminded of the historical cruelties. Once, while in the company of Polish friends, I found myself speechless at Lutsk (Ukraine), the place that commemorates the thousands of Poles that were mercilessly murdered. The same thing happened in a cemetery in the middle of one of the greatest battle fields of World War Two. All of a sudden, my friends asked me, a German and a member of the Evangelical Church, to pray upon the dead and ask for forgiveness and peace for our peoples of Europe”. Walter Kriechbaum experienced that living reconciliation together may entail, among other things, journeying with others along the pathway of affliction, taking upon oneself the sufferings of the others. Ecumenical reconciliation entails evaluating the gifts of the others and creating space for their development. Walter considers the suffering of an incomplete unity as a seed for the future.
Reconciliation does not require proportional representation
Munich 2016: During an ecumenical prayer meeting for the unity of Europe organized by Poles and Germans together, some twenty Russians entered the church unexpectedly. Water was leading the prayers together with a Polish friend, and for an instant was at a loss how to manage the new situation. Then he asked one from the Russian group to come forward and pronounce a prayer. At the end the participants – Catholics, Protestants, members of the Free Churches and Russian Orthodox – received a blessing from a Polish priest of the Schoenstatt Movement. Walter: “I learned that ecumenical reconciliation does not require either proportionality or deciding who is right. Jesus Christ dwells in the other’s heart and in a fantastic way he transforms diversity into a complementary, without any cancellations”.
Reconciliation requires trust
During his many travels in Eastern Europe Walter continues to weave a friendship net: “This, however, demands patience and perseverance. Sometimes it takes years to eliminate distrust. I have understood that the ecumenical experience “in the periphery” means feeling close and far away at the same time, and to be able to tolerate tension. When all of us turn our gaze upon Jesus, an interior closeness slowly develops. This cannot be forced; it is God’s work”. Walter is convinced that the mutual trust that ensues allows persons to speak freely and to experience an interior freedom.
Reconciliation requires that we be detached
According to Walter “reconciliation and ecumenical harmony cannot be organized. We ought to be detached all the time, and keep on entering into the Kairos of God. Only he knows the right time”. Nevertheless, we may prepare for this. “Together we will succeed to make Europe to shine. Its splendour is its people that are journeying toward reconciliation”. Walter is convinced of this and lives for it – starting anew each day.
20 years of Together for Europe: 7 – 9 November 2019 in Ottmaring and Augsburg / Germany. Visit of the regional Bishop Axel Piper
Toward the end of February, 16 representatives of Together for Europe met in Ottmaring to prepare the meeting of the ‘Friends’ which is scheduled for 7 – 9 November 2019. This international network came about 20 years ago; this provides a good enough motive to remember the early steps and to develop further prospects for the coming years.
Axel Piper, who has been regional Bishop of the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Augusta and Svevia since January 1, 2019, made his first visit to the Ecumenical Centre of Ottmaring. On that occasion he met Gerhard Pross, Ilona Toth, Herbert Lauenroth and Diego Goller, besides members of the preparation team of Together for Europe, and this allowed the Bishop to have a better understanding of the initiative.
Based on his experience Bishop Piper’s vision of the Church is: not structures, but “persons who are seeking together”. At the same time, Piper says that “it is sufficient to be curious – in the best meaning of the word”. Thus, he is eager to fulfil his new assignment, “to know new persons, new challenges and to contribute toward a new form and a new beginning in the Church and society”. Therefore, he found the initiative Together for Europe “quite interesting”.
Indeed, he has already booked himself for the meeting of the ‘Friends of Together for Europe’ (7 – 9 November 2019).
We have experienced many times that European unity is not a utopia and does not solely depend on institutions. European unity is generated through encounters between people: encounters without prejudices, with a willingness to uncover the riches in the other which brings us to discover, surprisingly, our own identity in deeper way.
That is what happened on 3rd June during the visit of Ljubljana (Slovenia) by sixteen representatives of Together for Europe from the Styria and Carinthia regions of Austria. The guests were members of different Ecclesial Movements and Communities such as Schoenstatt Movement, Focolare Movement, Charismatic Renewal, Freie Christengemeinde and Kloster Wernberg.
The visit began with a morning tour of the historical centre of Ljubljana led by a cultural expert, Silvester Gaberscek. A typical Slovenian picnic followed with fifteen members of different Slovenian Movements and Communities. There were beautiful moments of brotherly and sisterly friendship among the participants that gave a taste of what a united Europe could look like.
The visit continued with a programme in one of the local halls with a meeting which opened with some traditional Slovenian songs. The participants introduced themselves and shared their spiritual experience as well as their commitment and concrete initiatives in different areas (such as refugee welcome, youth initiatives aimed at citizen bonding, pro-family referendum initiatives). There were also moments of prayer as well as musical interludes. The Austrian guests asked to learn how to sing a prayer in Slovenian. We all felt encouraged and full of enthusiasm to keep working for unity in Europe.
That evening we parted mutually enriched and with the intention to meet as often as possible. We are delighted to have that opportunity next November in Prague.
Mariana and Pavel Snoj, Coordinators of Together for Europe in Slovenia
Together for Europe invited by Italian Association “Cities for Fraternity”
Some say that in order to unite Europe, you need to unite European cities. Is there, however, any universal “glue” that is capable of tying together and bringing alive such network?
Together for Europe is a group of Christians who t o g e t h e r, through their social and political commitment for Europe in the broadest sense, strive for brotherhood among all. The Association Cities for Fraternity is a body whose objective is to make a contribution, in Italy and beyond, to promoting brotherhood in political life. The aims of the two organisations have a lot in common, to the point that these organisations consider themselves as peers.
On 22nd June 2017, in Assisi, the city of St. Francis, the management of Cities for Fraternity met with representatives from different Italian cities. Together for Europe was also invited to the meeting, following a first contact between the two peer organisations last February in Rome, on the occasion of the conferral of the “Chiara Lubich Prize for Fraternity” to the municipality of Assisi (see article in section ‘International News’ of the website). The desire behind this invitation was to develop synergies between the peer organisations to better position of each to be at a service of the common good.
“Brotherhood needs to become our way of life” – Donatella Tesei, the Vice-President of the association emphasised, quoting examples of practical collaboration between different cities of Central Italy. Her words were echoed by the facts and testimonials showing the work of Together for Europe in different European countries.
So, brotherhood is the “glue” which makes such synergies between different groups working within Cities for Fraternity and Together for Europe possible; together they can offer a spiritual and cultural contribution in response to challenges emerging in our cities.
Ilona Tóth and Ada Maria Guazzo
al centro: S.E. Mons. Domenico Sorrentino e il sindaco Stefania Proietti_Assisi 2017
a sin.: Padre Egidio Canil, “Spirito di Assisi”_Assisi 2017
particolare della sala del comune_Assisi 2017
Nella sala storica del comune_Assisi 2017
I rappresentanti delle varie città_Assisi 2017
da destra: Lina de Maina e Pasquale Boccia_Assisi 2017
At the beginning of January a number of representatives of Together for Europe visited Card. Koch in Rome. Leaders from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity were also present at the meeting.
The open atmosphere which presided over the dialogue was attested to by Gerhard Pross (YMCA Esslingen), Diego Goller (Focolare Movement), Cesare Zucconi (Sant’Egidio), Fr. Heinrich Walter (Schoenstatt), Thomas Römer (YMCA Munich) and Heike Vesper (Focolare Movement) who were also touched by Card. Koch’s openness and availability. During the meeting the Cardinal expressed his hope for a greater level of involvement from the Orthodox Church in the preparatory process for the upcoming event in Munich in June/July 2016. With the intention to contribute to the event and to facilitate the majority of other speakers based in Germany, the Cardinal has made himself available to travel to Germany for a preliminary meeting.
A personal visit to Card. Kasper concluded the day of meetings in Rome. It was also very open and constructive. Gerhard Pross commented: “Over the last 15 years Card. Kasper accompanied and followed us like no other. He has declared his availability to speak at the Congress. The fact that he also involved us in some issues which occupy him at present appears to be a clear sign of the relationship of trust which has grown over the years”.
During the annual meeting of the “Friends of Together for Europe” in Paris, on 6th November 2013 representatives of the Focolare Movement visited the headquarters of the Orthodox Movement, Acer-Mjo.
Spiritual trust, depth of sharing, discovery of a real friendship in Christ as a seed of a Christian European conscience; these are just a few of the fruits of the visit of representatives of the Focolare Movement to the headquarters of the Acer-MJO Movement (Russian Students’ Christian Action – Orthodox Youth Movement) in Paris. During the annual meeting of “Friends of Together for Europe” which took place on 7th-9th November in the French capital, Gabri Fallacara, Severin Schmid and Maria Wienken from Focolare, were received by Cyrille Sollogoub, President of the Orthodox association.
The Acer Movement was started in 1923 by some Russians who had been expelled from their country during the troubled years of the Revolution. The founders include such important personalities as Fr. Sergio Boulgakov, Fr. Giorgio Florovsky and Nicolas Berdiaev. The President, accompanied by his brother Igor who is responsible for the youth section, took us to the Church – Chapel , housed in a former garage in the courtyard, covered with glass. The Divine Liturgy has been celebrated here by famous Orthodox priests and theologians like Florovsky , Bulgakov and Alexander Men. Cyrille explained that “The icon that best expresses the charism of the Acer Movement is the presentation of Mary in the Temple: she contains Jesus and therefore she contains the Church. While in Russia, the churches were being destroyed and the Russian emigrants did not have the means to build others, a new understanding of what the Church is was born: not built from bricks but by living people, bearers of Christ and of his Church.” The aim of raising awareness, especially among the laity, of “being Church” is therefore at the origin of the Acer Movement which was approved by the Patriarch of Russia, Tikon, who was then assassinated; it depends juridically on the Patriarch of Constantinople.
The President recalled, “During the regime one of the main tasks of Acer was to print the Bible, spiritual and cultural literature and get it to Russia. It also supported thefamilies of dissidents and others in need.” Printing is still an important activity for Acer. The youth section is very active and involves over 200 young people. Despite the challenge of distance, summer camps are organized for them in the mountains, as an opportunity for re-evangelization; in this way the sense of faith and of belonging to the Church grows. Once trained, the young people get involved in their own parishes. This beautiful opportunity to meet and get to know one another left us with a sense of gratitude to God who brings us together in the world today with eyes of hope, open to a future of communion.