Works in progress in Padua

Those who, last November, participated at the meeting of the Friends of Together for Europe have enthused us with what they experienced and with future projects.

We are all looking forward to organize a Prayer Vigil to be held to mark May 9, Europe Day. From the very first contacts we were surprised to find so much interest for the idea: in fact, new interested groups have been approached and a new range of relationships has been established.

The first step was to approach the local Church so as to create the May 9 event in synergy. Then we contacted the priest who runs the University Centre and who also coordinates the “Biblical Festival” which is scheduled for May 10 – 12. We were warmly welcomed, seeing that the theme of the event is “The City and Citizenship”: indeed, Europe was a theme already on the program and thus we proposed to include the Prayer Vigil of Together for Europe in the program of the Festival.

Moreover, we have been asked to find an expert on Europe to address an event organized for young people, consisting of a photographic competition, with prizes, for secondary school students in Padua and its province with the theme: “Never without the other”.

The responsible for the Festival has also asked us to show a short video which narrates the history of Together for Europe during the evening dedicated to Europe.

We spoke to the person responsible for the Ministry with Migrants, and we discovered an unknown reality: in the Diocese of Padua there are 110.000 migrants; more than half are Christian, and these are ministered to by priests coming from their native Countries. We met 12 priests from India, Sri Lanka, China and Eastern Europe, and they all welcomed the idea of the Prayer Vigil and the evening dedicated to Europe. We never imagined that, in a poor rectory, we would be speaking to such a group of persons coming from so many parts of the world!

Also, we met a Rumanian Orthodox priest who chairs the Ecumenical Council of Churches: he was extremely pleased that the event will be part of a “Biblical Festival”, because, as he said, “it is the Bible that unites us all”.

Later, we met almost all the members of the Ecumenical Council: the persons representing the Greek Orthodox, the Rumanian Orthodox, the Methodist and the Lutheran Churches. With them it was decided to hold the Prayer Vigil on May 9, as an opening of the Biblical Festival; it will be held in the church of St Sophia, a most beautiful Romanic church in Padua.

All the groups we contacted form part of the preparatory commission of the Prayer Vigil (now enhanced as international and ecumenical). After the Prayer Vigil, during a convivial gathering, typical dishes from various Countries will be served.

The Team of Together for Europe in Padua

Young people love to be practical

Is there a future for Europe? What do you think is the contribution that Churches and Ecclesial Movements can offer in this respect?

There is indeed a future for Europe. Communities and Churches do have a role to play individually as well as together and as part of civic life which has been growing stronger. In time it will generate its own new political leaders and until then it will continue reinforcing its civic commitment. The greatest damage to society comes from the apathy of millions who do not attempt to make a positive contribution. So these communities have a precise role. They develop and exercise certain aspects that are important for the functioning of society (for example order, freedom, obedience, responsibility, equality, hierarchy, respect, correction, individual and collective ownership, truth and so on).

9th May is Europe Day. What does this date mean to you?

The choice of date to celebrate is at once understandable, good and also necessary. The question is how to celebrate. We would like to see a big scientific interdisciplinary conference taking place as well as other forms of celebration that would appeal to society at large. Rather than an official celebration, we were thinking that perhaps an event like that of the European Capital of Culture might be interesting. We know from experience that official celebrations tend to be political and that the exploitation of such occasions for political purposes has the effect of distancing people from the event.

If you were President of the European Union with their responsibilities and decision-making powers, what would be your priorities aimed at increasing the unity of peoples in Europe?

I would avoid uniformity, and aim at pursuing, reinforcing and accelerating integration, based on a mutual recognition of identities and on solidarity. The United States is an example of such an approach, where only one language is spoken, and a looser integration bonds were replaced by centralization. We would be for increasing the extent of international projects such as Erasmus for researchers and third level staff and gradually opening up to involvement of secondary education teachers; making a six-month period of studies abroad obligatory for university students independent of their field of studies, as well as running continuous inter-institutional courses between bordering countries.

How do you see Europe in today’s international political context?

I think it is facing two main challenges: Firstly, unity: if Europe does not succeed in becoming more unanimous in personifying unity, it will lose its position on the international scene; and secondly, corruption: any type of abuse, even the slightest one, be it political, moral, or sexual, damages greatly the international community independently of whether it is carried out by an authority or an individual. This can only be prevented through a continuous examination of conscience or reflection performed together.

It appears as if young people were not interested in politics. Do you think it is true?

Young people love to be practical. Abstract things do not appeal to them. The key is to increase numbers and invest money in international study programmes, so that young Europeans can have a chance to get to know Europe and its young people. Europe should also strive to define its main objectives in more concrete terms so that the young people can believe in them and become enthusiastic about them.

What do you think about populist tendencies? Are there better ways of going ahead Together?

Populism is a consequence of the latest economic crises as well as of military conflicts (for example foreign interference’s). It is also caused by nationalism. The European Union does not deal with nationalism efficiently which puts populists at an advantage. Furthermore, European citizens do not tend to have a direct relationship with European politicians. They often know only their own national political representatives who are the ones ‘listened to by the crowds’ and therefore directly responsible for how information from Brussels is transmitted in individual member states. In any case we need to learn to advance together. In what way? In the context of what was discussed so far, the first step might be to act on a personal level and gradually assume a collective responsibility, acknowledging the effectiveness and the role of acting together.

Zsófia Bárány PhD and Szabolcs Somorjai PhD, Hungary, researches in the field of modern sociology and economy, and politics and history of the Church

Sharing resources

May 9th is “Europe Day”. What comes to mind when you hear this date? How would you like this day to be celebrated by Europeans?

I see this day as an opportunity for European countries to dare to start transnational actions. We don’t need an elaborate programme, but even for example, a game with the idea of getting to know each other and discovering what we have in common, beyond our differences. This is why we need an informal “place of dialogue”. Feeling the connection between us would already reach this goal.

If you were president of the European Commission, what priorities would you put on the agenda for Europe’s cohesion?

No frontiers between countries. You feel at ease quickly in places to which you can travel with ease. The hospitality of one’s own country in welcoming others is an important premise for mutual understanding and appreciation. I would try to highlight the benefits and the great enrichment of an “open” Europe. This would require concrete examples and the small results already achieved could be made known.

Does Europe have a future? What contribution do you see, for example, from the Churches and the Spiritual Movements and Communities?

Openness and transparency! If the Church communicates openly what she plans to do with money, programmes etc., she will help citizens to trust more. If the Church was recognized as having the role of uniting people, it would be understood that she also contributes to removing borders from people’s hearts. Implement initiatives for young people, create spaces where local people can meet with migrants without propaganda programmes for refugees, but to highlight the multiplicity of countries and the variety of people. Europe has a future if people begin to understand that everyone can be a resource for the other because of our diversity, just use our various skills and abilities in the right way.

How do you see Europe in the context of today’s world politics?

Much has already been achieved in Europe. It is a gift to be able to travel to different countries within Europe and enjoy collaborations that have enabled the exchange of students and the social year of volunteering. These experiences should be made known, so that citizens of different countries can realize that this treasure exists. Europe should show its positive aspects more. We generally have more stable financial security and good social assistance. Should we not be grateful for what we already have?

It seems that young people are not very concerned about the future of Europe. Do you think this is true?

My experience as a young person is that you are often a bit overwhelmed by everything that happens around you all over the world. Only a few, those who have been involved in some way, are interested in politics. There are many problems in the world that young people cannot solve (at least so they think) and therefore they get involved more readily in things that promise immediate and visible results. Politics is often too complicated and sometimes uses language that is not accessible to most people. For young people there should be more incentives to take an interest in politics, with the prospect of being able to change something.

What do you think about populist tendencies? Would not it be better to walk together?

Given that today we are dominated by capitalism (I speak now of Germany), it is almost impossible that there are no populist tendencies. We tend only to want to obtain more and more profit, without taking into account the weakest. People who look only for profit cannot see any profit in supporting the weaker, because this takes time, work and commitment. The middle class is disappearing and the gap between rich and poor is widening. A cohabitation would be possible, but it must be understood that one can obtain profit even with different abilities. Maybe the profit will be lower, but you gain in human relationships, health, values ​​etc. First of all we must understand that, by thinking only of ourselves, we can no longer be happy; that people who have less, but who can rely on each other, have found a very precious treasure.

Katharina is 24 years old and a teacher. She has work experience with migrants and currently lives in Nuremberg (Germany)

 

9th May: Europe Day

It is encouraging to see the good intentions and new commitment to the European project

This day marks the anniversary of the beginning of the process of European integration. On 9th May 1950 Robert Schuman presented a plan for European cooperation known as ‘The Schuman Declaration’. This day also marks the anniversary of the end of Second World War, following the Nazi surrender on 8th May.

However, this day also marks victory for the then Soviet Union in 1945 as a result of which many Central and Eastern European countries became satellite states to Moscow.

It is a day in history of territorial gains, affecting an entire section of humanity, both in positive and in negative ways. As such, it is a historical day, Europe Day.

In European Union member countries, the EU Institutions hold Open Days in order to help European citizens to better understand the great “enterprise” which, since the year 2000 has as its motto: ‘United in diversity’. A motto that “signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages.” To date, the motto appears as a challenge more so than a lived experience. However, it is encouraging to see the good intentions and new commitment to the European project, shown by the joint declaration of heads of state and government, which was signed on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.

We, Christians of different Churches, through our respective charisms, within our Movements and Communities, feel called upon on this Europe Day to continue our work for a more brotherly and united Europe. On the journey of Together for Europe, we have experienced that unity in diversity is possible based on a shared premise that we are all children of God and brothers. Every effort to build friendship and brotherhood in our communities, is precious. Our diversity becomes gift and mutual enrichment. And if this works on a small scale, it can be extended further to all in helping to serve the greater common good.

Ilona Toth