Together for Europe has received a letter from David Maria Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament. He emphasized the great need of the common European values to tackle crises. He also added that he would be delighted to keep in contact with our network.
In a letter addressed to Together for Europe (TfE), David Maria Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, expressed his gratitude to the ecumenical network for its service toward the European Continent. Mr Sassoli observed that even Europe’s Founding Fathers were fully aware that the political project EUROPE could function properly only if nurtured also with a lived-out spirituality. He affirmed that: “European shared values, as agreed upon by Member States when signing the EU Treaties, are more needed than ever to overcome crises, including the current COVID-19 pandemic”.
Fighting selfish egoistic and nationalistic temptations
The president underlined how much he appreciates all the initiatives that “stimulate public discussions on civic matters”. In the European Parliament’s aims and in the commitment of the network Together for Europe, he sees “a shared approach based on solidarity and idealism”. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis, the need for more ecology and the way the European Union deals with third-county nationals arriving on its territory “are all issues that cannot be tackled without fighting selfish and nationalistic temptations”.
Encouragement for future steps
The ecumenical network considers this letter of appreciation to be an encouragement for future steps. The letter from Brussels shows that prayer and action for Europe, like the initiatives linked to May 9, are an important contribution toward its unity.
Heinrich Brehm / Beatriz Lauenroth
Attached: the original letter
Letter Of The President Of European Parliament David Maria Sassoli To TfE 2020 07 09 (3.0 MB)
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.
Encountering Chiara Lubich to celebrate her birth centenary
Recently a famous economist said: “all of a sudden, a common evil taught us what common good really is”. These few words express a great truth, which reminds me of another: “… a thing is better understood when compared to its opposite”. In fact, while we bow our heads in prayer for the dead, the sick and for those, unknown to us, who work in silence in the hospitals and in the key places of our cities, we timidly lift our gaze toward heaven, aware of a certainty: that we are living in a time of grace. If the coronavirus were able to speak, it would tell us: “… stop, keep still, I’m here to help you...”
This ‘stop’ was the last thing that the organizers of the Chiara Lubich’s Centenary expected to happen this year, 100 years since the birth of the Foundress of the Focolare Movement. In fact, in Italy and in many other Countries in the five continents, thousands were expected to come together to mark this Centenary. These participants would have been young and old, politicians and ecclesiastics, and people speaking different languages and having diverse cultures. They would have come together to celebrate, and above all, to encounter Chiara, who is still alive in her great Ideal: unity, reflecting Jesus’ prayer to the Father: “that all may be one” (Jn 17, 21).
Therefore, all public manifestations are on hold, for now. Maria Voce, the President of the Focolare Movement, in a video message from her quarantine at home, said: “This stop will last for days, weeks or even months…, no one really knows. But it will eventually end. If we live this period well, we will rediscover a strong presence of Jesus by living out the Gospel, in loving our brothers and sisters, in Jesus in our midst, which we can keep even at a distance in our big Family. And above all, in loving sufferings, in which we recognize Jesus Forsaken – ‘Chiara’s God’, as the Bishop of Trent likes to define Him. In Him, we encounter her too, and we start looking at every situation with her eyes. We, too, may experience what Chiara and her first companions experienced: they were not aware of the raging war or when it ended, because God and his Love completely enveloped them, and while they lived this reality, nothing else mattered. All this was the result of a new faith in the love of God”.
Maria Voce received several appreciations. Gerhard Pross (CVJM Esslingen/Germany), one of the founders, and the present moderator of Together for Europe, among other things, wrote:
“Chiara Lubich was an exceptional grace of Godnot only for you, but for all the people of God and the entire humanity. Encountering her was something special and, thanks to the charism, she not only had the gift to found a spiritual Movement, but also to trigger off many founding and innovative impulses. […] She was the one who invited us to start the journey of Together, which started with the meeting for leaders (February 2000) and continued with “Together, otherwise, how?” (December 8, 2001) held in Munich and this led to Together for Europe that was held in Stuttgart in May 2004. In the Steering Committee, she was undoubtedly the ‘primus inter pares’; she led us forward with love and a clear vision. Together for Europe is the fruit of her love, her lucidity and her determination. […] I’m grateful for the great gift of having made her acquaintance and for having journeyed with her. When one encountered her one encountered love. In my many meetings with her I was always struck by the way she radiated Jesus Christ. She was completely at His disposal”.
The Schoenstatt Movement, too, was part of our ecumenical network from the outset. This is what the present Superior General, Fr Juan Pablo Catoggio, together with his predecessor, Fr Heinrich Walter, wrote:
“Her great contribution in this historical era is that of having always sought unity. She drew her strength from the love of the Lord and from reciprocal love, and succeeded in establishing concrete signs of unity. Little by little, this vital process gives rise everywhere to a new culture – a culture that is not meant only for Christians, but one that is addressed to all persons of good will. Her contribution is also exceptional because it flowed from the heart of a woman who had no power or ministry, and never aspired of having any. This is an indication of how, in the future, the Church may become more ‘salt and leaven’ for the entire humanity”.
Thus, our meetings are on hold. Indeed, looking Chiara in the eyes, we can join the Coordination Team of Together for Europe in Austria, and tell her: “Dearest Chiara, We want to commit ourselves to promote Together for Europe! In this Network we discern the greatness of your Dream – by listening to God, we meet, we are reconciled and we can build a world Community”.
This ‘stop’ and the exterior silence will lead us to the interior silence. Will it make us understand – as individuals, peoples and nations – what needs to be changed once this immense, world-wide – but perhaps blessed – tempest has passed?
We join Gerhard Pross in auguring: “May this time brings about a new openness to the faith in Europe. And may we, as Christians, witness our faith through our courageous living”.
Conleth Burns is a young man from Ireland who is active in the ‘United World Project’. He participated at the Meeting of Together for Europe which was held in Ottmaring – Augsburg (Germany). What follows is the article he posted on the website of the UW project.
Christian Churches and Movements unite to be Together for Europe
Earlier last month, I had the chance to travel to Ottmaring and Augsburg in Southern Germany to attend a 3-day meeting of a network of Christian Churches and Movements called Together4Europe. 180 people from 55 different movements, communities and churches shared three days together. Everything simultaneously translated in 5 languages as the network celebrated its 20th birthday. I represented the United World Project and was there to try and understand how faith communities are really working together for unity and for uniting the continent of Europe.
We listened to presentations about the 20-year journey where a group of people from across the continent of Europe came together, in their shared Christian identity, to be together for the whole continent. We crisscrossed the continent with experiences of encounter, prayer and hope being shared from Scotland to Ukraine, from France to the Czech Republic. Over those days, as we travelled around the continent, I toyed with two main question; what does togetherness actually look like? What does it mean to be together ‘for something’?
What does togetherness look like?
I learned about togetherness; when I heard them challenge each other to be living border crossers, ambassadors for reconciliation, and “prophetic signs for credible togetherness in Europe”.
I learned about togetherness; when we gathered in a square in Augsburg and held candles and said prayers for a more united people of Europe.
I learned about togetherness; when we listened to a diverse group of Christians talk about a journey, they had travelled over 20 years bringing together thousands of people.
I learned about togetherness; when each day at breakfast, lunch and dinner, as every new person sat down to eat, someone would check first if they needed translation, or what language was best to use at the table. People there wanted people to be able to understand and be understood, to hear and be heard.
Togetherness for this network is about embracing the diversity between them. Togetherness for them is not always easy; the challenges are geographical, theological and cultural. Yet, 20 years on, this network remains together. For them, their structure is one of network, not hierarchy. Theirs is a real togetherness, one curated over 20 years. 20 years of honest and hard-working relationship building.
The mission of Together4Europe is not only to be together for the sake of it, they really want to be positive messengers for a more united Europe in all its diversity. They aim to give a soul to the continent; they emphasise its historically Christian roots. Over the days, they principally told the story of their meetings together over the last 20 years. The untold story is often the most interesting one. Over lunch or coffee, you’d learn about the moments where people attending Together4Europe had been inspired to encounter new people, embrace new ideas and reconcile diversity as a result of the meetings. In some ways, Together4Europe begins when you leave one of the intra-continental or national meetings.
Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel Laurate, finishes a famous poem of his ‘Scaffolding’ with the following line: “We may let the scaffolds fall confident that we have built our wall.”
Together4Europe is about building bridges, not walls. As the 20-year-old scaffolding is dismantled, this network can be sure that bridges have been built, people have been connected, and they are going to continue.
The last Meeting of the Friends of Together for Europe (Ottmaring – Augsburg, November 7-9 ) was characterized by an impressive variation of participants. The varied impressions that we received mirror this variations, and here are some of them:
“We are grateful to God for this ‘phenomenon of Together’, which in all these years has developed into a training ground of mutual acquaintance, communion, unity and hope for our Continent”.
“I experienced a strong action that goes against the very many risks of fragmentation and new divisions”.
“Together for Europe enjoyed an added visibility by the fact that we were hosted in the Town Hall of Augsburg. After all, TfE is committed for a better social and civil environment in a city, as well as giving support to new politics for an enhanced peace among all Nations”.
“I have never met such persons who scan the signs of the times and, together and concretely, discern what they ought to do for the others, for their Country and the other European Countries”.
“I concluded that there cannot be a FOR without the TOGETHER”.
“The Evangelicals’ example helped me, a Catholic, to convert regarding prayer”.
“I was fascinated by the image of the ’vanishing mediator’ ( cf. Keynote speech by Herbert Lauenroth – Program + Material) regarding the frontiers of relationships. I consider this Meeting of Together for Europe to have been one of great unity among the 55 Movement of various Churches represented, and among the participants coming from 23 Countries. There I could see the political soul of a renewed Europe, in which Nations seek unity in distinction and freedom; a unity that go beyond all kinds of nationalism”.
“In Rome, where I live, I encounter few Christians belonging to other Churches; here, through the concrete experience of meeting other persons with the identical faith, although belonging to a different Tradition, I have experienced openness toward the ecumenical reality. (…) I am now more convinced of the cultural importance of the ‘7 Yeses’that we proclaim, in view of the improvement of the civil society, according to the original intuition of the Founders of a united Europe who aimed not only at achieving peace, but also at social solidarity and the brotherhood of Nations”.
“I have decided to live out “Together” in my daily life, starting with my neighbours who come from another Country”.
“Here I understood the beauty of being different. It is God who wants this difference. The more different we are, the more God is present. Discovering this is a true challenge”.
“For me, Together for Europe has become a place of hope, where the encounter and the reconciliation prepare the future in which the various Nations will be willing to come to know each other, with their history and traditions. Let’s build bridges and not walls”.
“When we, as Christians of various Churches, work together, I experience the beauty of the Church of Christ in her broadest outreach, and my Christian identity is enhanced. In the present political and religious context in Europe, I feel that I ought to give my witness even through the aid to the migrants”.
Aren’t these some of the seeds which the 20-year old experience have produced, and which may blossom again to mark new stages of brotherhood in Europe and beyond?
Larisa Musina is an Orthodox Christian and she is the pro-rector of the Educational Institute ‘St Fileret’. Last November, Larisa took part in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Together for Europe at Augsburg (Germany) representing the ‘Orthodox Transfiguration Brotherhood’.
During the Meeting, we also remembered the historical signing of the ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’ of October 30, 1999; that same day the ecumenical network TfE was born as a concrete response to the thirst for unity felt by all Christians.
Following are some excerpts of the interview Larisa Musina gave to Oleg Glogolev on her return to Moscow.
“The Lutheran Bishop Christian Krause participated at this Meeting; he is one of the two signatories of the 1999 Declaration since he was the President of the World Lutheran Federation. He spoke about two important things: first, that the road leading to the Declaration was far from easy. Many great efforts were needed so that the XXth century may end without leaving such a significant division for future generations. Secondly, Bishop Krause expressed his great appreciation for the work carried out by the ecclesial Movements and Communities.
This dialogue and the associated processes originated, and are still developing, within the context of renewal of the ecclesiastic life. The aim is to maintain the authenticity of the Christian Church, while developing her capacity to fulfil her own vocation in the world. It’s interesting to note that it is the ecclesial Movements that are at the forefront of this initiative.”
Commenting upon the solemn conclusive evening, Larisa said: “In the evening we prayed together in the Lutheran church of St Anne, the same Church where the Declaration was signed. This was followed by candle-lit procession to the nearby square. We thanked God for his gifts, including the gift of Christian unity, of which many shared their experience. Then, still holding our lit candles, we walked toward the city. It was like Easter.”
The participants went back home with the light of the Risen One in their heart, ready to take God to the Nations.
Ambassadors of reconciliation and signs of hope. Together for Europe celebrated its anniversary in the Augsburg city hall
300 members from 55 Christian communities and movements from various churches and from 25 European countries were gathered this Saturday to celebrate several important anniversaries: 30 years ago the Berlin Wall fell and a new era of encounter between East and West began for Europe. 20 years ago the ‘Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification’ was signed by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church. On the same day in the afternoon, the first group of leaders from various catholic, evangelical and free church backgrounds came together in Ottmaring – this was when the network Together for Europe was born. Those three events were closely linked for the people present and shaped the ‘pioneering spirit’ of the initiative.
‘You are ambassadors of reconciliation’, encouraged Lutheran Bishop, Ret., Christian Krause. He had co-signed the ‘Joint Declaration’ in 1999 as the then President of the Lutheran World Federation. As one of the witnesses at the time he recalled the many encouraging steps that have been taken in ecumenism through the declaration and since it was made. In the current climate of increasing scepticism of Europe and political polarization, it is precisely this experience of reconciled diversity of the movements and spiritual communities that is needed.
Bertram Meier, the current diocesan administrator in Augsburg, emphasised in the conversation with his Evangelical colleague Regional Bishop Axel Piper the importance of this ability to seek reconciliation. ‘Unity in diversity is also a challenge within the church. It’s about learning to understand each other, not just from the mind, but also from the heart.’ Piper confirmed that it is exactly this effort that also shapes the ecumenical relations in Augsburg: ‘But we must remain curious towards each other, we have to be interested in each other, because we can learn a lot from each other!’
Gerhard Pross, moderator of the ecumenical network, outlined perspectives for the future: it would be important to resist the temptation to develop new organizational structures, but instead to deepen the subject of reconciliation. ‘In times of divergence and tendencies towards demarcation we want to be a prophetic sign for a credible togetherness in Europe.’
In the afternoon, the Czech Senator Pavel Fischer made an important contribution to the socio- political dimension of Together for Europe. He described a current picture of the commitment to freedom and human dignity in the context of a strongly media-influenced society in Europe. He urged his audience to become active citizens who have the courage to stand up for others, for the weak, to speak out for justice.
At the end of the day, Father Heinrich Walter from the Schoenstatt Movement concluded: ‘Europe needs this positive spirit, because there are already enough messengers of doom!’
Afterwards, the group made its way from the city hall to the Protestant church of St. Anna, where in 1999 the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification had been signed. There the day ended with ecumenical prayer and a candlelight procession. On the square in front of the church, the anniversary celebrations were concluded with songs and a blessing.
180 participants from 20 countries (with live translation into 5 languages) and 55 different movements and communities from various churches are gathering together in Ottmaring: The place where Together for Europe started 20 years ago.
A participant who only recently came in contact with the network noted: ‘Here, the best in everyone is awoken’.
At the start into the day Andy Pettman guided the participants in a moment of reflection that lead to ‘a response out of thankfulness’. ‘Recognizing the seed in the fruits’ – that became very tangible for everyone in what happened next. Thomas Römer invited each participant to fill paper bags with seeds as a symbol for what has grown out of 20 years of fellowship. These seeds now need to be sowed again in trust and hope.
The next contributions were especially intensive. Sister Nicole explains the power of the ‘prophetic in the precarious’ and Herbert Lauenroth the necessity to become living border crossers ‘across all borders’.
Many moments of exchange – at times in spontaneous small groups in the hall, at times in language groups – are encouraging further growth of the thick family atmosphere among those present.
The afternoon started with a time of getting to know the ‘house of prayer’ in Augsburg through the presence of Johannes Hartl. This was followed by intense conversations to reflect on what has been heard and experienced in the plenum and to feel out next steps for the future.
In the evening, the participants of the conference went to Augsburg, where the Mayor was expecting them for a reception in the ‘Golden Hall’. A visit of the city centre concluded the eventful day.
Augsburg’s history spans more than 2000 years; in fact it was founded as a Roman military encampment in 15 B.C.. Christianity was introduced by the Romans, which means that it was present since its very beginnings.
In the XVI century, Augsburg became an important place of the Reformation because that was where Martin Luther and the Pope’s envoy, Cardinal Cajetano, met. That meeting resulted in the breakaway from the Church of Rome.
With the Imperial Diets, Augsburg became one of the most important cities of the Sacred Roman Empire. In 1530, the German Princes presented the Emperor with the confessio augustana, which formed the foundation of the Lutheran doctrine. This ‘Confession of Augsburg’, which was written by Philip Melantone, may be considered as an attempt to rebuild the broken religious unity.
Religious peace of Augsburg
10 years later, Augsburg became a city blessed with religious peace: the Diet of 1555 decreed the ‘Peace of Augsburg”, which aimed at regulating, from a political point of view, the peaceful and equal co-existence of the two Denominations. All the official roles were fairly distributed between the Confessions. This gave protection to the Denominations that were a minority. Albeit it took more than a 100 years to achieve equality and peace (with the terrible ‘Thirty Years War’ till the ‘Westphalia Peace’ of 1648), the ‘Peace of Augsburg’ was the first decisive step toward religious tolerance.
Feast of the Peace
On August 8, 1650, Augsburg celebrated for the first time the Great Feast of the Peace, which originally was a feast of the Protestant Christians as thanksgiving for the fact that, after a long struggle, they could take back their churches and could once again conduct their worship in them. This Feast is still being celebrated; for many decades it had become a Feast of the Peace of the entire city. The political leaders, the faithful of the diverse Churches and the citizens of this famous city celebrate all together in an ecumenical solidarity that goes beyond the boundaries of the Confessions. Today, on the eve of the Great Feast of the peace, the ‘Panel of the Religions’ organizes a multi-religious prayer meeting for peace. Since 1950, August 8 has been declared a holiday for all the citizens of Augsburg.
20th anniversary of Together for Europe, 7 – 9.11.2019 at Ottmaring and Augsburg
In 2019 Together for Europe returns to Germany: to the ecumenical Centre of Ottmaring/Augsburg where it all started back in 1999. Leaders and representatives of various Movements and Communities belonging to the Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and the Free Churches will meet at a European level to take stock of the situation and plan for the future.
On Friday November 8, 2019 an official reception for the ‘Friends of Together for Europe’ will take place at the Town Hall of Augsburg. In This historical place the City wants to honour this international initiative.
The ‘Golden Hall’
The heart of the Town Hall of Augsburg is the ‘Golden Hall’, which was built between 1615 and 1620 by Elias Holl. In virtue of its impressive doorways, paintings and the magnificent lacunar ceiling, the ‘Golden Hall’ was immediately hailed as an apex of internal artistic design. The Hall was so named because of the many golden ornaments that adorn the interior.
Augustan Peace Prize – The Winner of the Inter-Confessional Prize
In the “Golden Hall’, in 1988, on the Feast day of the Augustan Peace, Chiara Lubich was honoured with the Prize for Peace for her commitment in the ecumenical field on a world-wide level. The prize, which exists since 1985, honours those leading personalities who have given a special contribution toward an open and peaceful cohabitation of culture and religions. Among others it was granted to Rabbi Levinson, Pope Schenuda III of the Coptic Church, the former German Federal President, Richard von Weizsäcker and the former Head of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2017, this prestigious honour was given to the General Secretary of the World Lutheran Federation, Martin Junge.
On the floor under the ‘Golden Hall’ there is the historical ‘Oberer Fletz’ – a hall with a characteristic style where the Town Council holds its meetings. That is where, on November 9, 2019, the participants of the annual meeting of the ‘Friends of Together for Europe’ will converge.
The celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Together for Europe (TfE) involves history, Churches and society in a threefold feast. The Friends of TfE will meet at Ottmaring, Germany, on November 7 – 9, 2019. The program includes a reception in the City Hall of Augsburg and a day visiting the significant places of the city, like St Anne’s church. All these augur events a new and promising encounter of European peoples.
How come this ‘birthday’ is being celebrated in Germany? The dates say it all! October 31, 2019, is the anniversary of the historical signing of the Joint Declaration regarding the Doctrine of Justification, which was held at Augsburg, between the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation. On that same day, 20 years ago, the first meeting between Evangelical and Catholic Communities and Movements was held at Ottmaring, and that meeting gave birth to Together for Europe. Moreover, November 9, 2019, marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Anniversaries always invite us to give thanks and, at the same time, to look ahead. The program of the Meeting, which is meant to express both these attitudes, will be held at the Ecumenical Centre of Ottmaring, in the City Hall and in St Anne’s church in Augsburg.
The first part of the program will take place at the Ecumenical Centre of Ottmaring, and we will start be having a retrospective look: images, witnessing, sharing of experiences of these 20 years of our journeying together, and from these we would then move to seek new perspectives: “To discern the seeds from the fruits”. There would be small groups’ meetings as well as plenary ones, moments of prayer and thanksgiving, and in-depth studies of the guidelines of TfE so as to better understand the contribution we are called to give toward Europe.
With the help of some experts, and in dialogue with them, we will discuss some of today’s challenges: fear, boundaries, and walls.
In the evening of Friday November 8, the Mayor of the City of Augsburg will offer an official reception in the City Hall.
Saturday November 9, the Meeting will continue in the City Hall of Augsburg:
20 years since the Joint Declaration regarding Justification; the evangelical Bishop Christian Krause will speak on History and consequences: what do they mean today?
Together for Europe: the fruit of the Joint Declaration; the experience of unity; perspectives; and developments in the individual Countries;
Journeying along the pathway toward the one Church of Jesus Christ: A vision for a sole People of God;
30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the Iron Curtain throughout the Continent;
The present challenges that Europe and unity are facing; Pavel Fisher (Prague).
In St Anne’s church we will pray for Europe in diverse languages. Then, in the Square in front of that church, we will express our thanksgiving with lighted candles, songs, prayers and several brief witnessing.
Together for Europe 1999-2019 – An interview with Pál Tóth
The initiative Together for Europe turns 20. For the occasion, we have put two questions to Pál Tóth, who teaches at the University Institute ‘Sophia’ in Loppiano (Florence). We specifically asked about the initiative itself and how does Together for Europe respond to today’s challenges.
Together for Europe was born in 1999. How does this free alliance of Christian Communities and Movements differ from other groups that are presently working for Europe? What is its characteristic?
The acceptance of otherness, and, as a consequence, of pluralism, is one of the achievements of Western culture. This conviction is rooted in the Biblical faith that each one of us is an unrepeatable creature of God, who has a loving plan for each one of us. This development, however, presented the societies with Christian roots with a new challenge: how are they supposed to manage this rich diversity? How is the necessary unity to act achieved? Today, in an era of global challenges, this issue has become really urgent. Presently the problems are no longer solely local; indeed we have to deal with transversal challenges like climate change, migration, poverty, unbridled capitalism, etc.. In order to respond adequately to these challenges, we need to have a more efficacious collaboration on a global level. In my opinion, Europe, which for centuries has elaborated innovative ideas, may, or rather, ought to play a crucial role in this process.
I’m convinced that the Christian Churches have a special resource to offer in the bringing about a unity which does not oppress, but, on the contrary, appreciates diversities. This ability may be seen in the initiative Together for Europe. The Churches themselves, too, are enriched with pluralism; however, it is a pluralism of the various charisms and gifts, and it is a pluralism that is able to bring about unity. Why? Because at the root of every true Charism there is a word of God. The charisms are different from one another, but the root of all of them is the Word of God, all summed up in the New Commandment: Love one another. This is their common foundation, and one that provides a solid base for unity and collaboration. In fact, Together for Europe bases its activities on the “Pact of mutual love” endorsed by the representatives of the diverse Movements and Communities present in our Continent.
Also, we need to mention the men and women who were the pioneers of Together. They have dedicated themselves completely to this initiative for 20 years. Sure, from a human perspective, they are talented persons who have been faithful to their commitment. But I want to add something: in that long-past 1999, they were touched by a strong light, by the Divine. They intuitively understood that it is through a lived-out unity that we may build a different world, a new Europe. That ‘foundation’ experience marked them with a certainty based on unity in diversity, which they now seek to hand down to others. They know that the dreams and aspirations which they once had have today become a necessity for survival. Chiara Lubich, co-founder of Together for Europe affirmed: “Everything depends on the charisms. We need to discover them”.
What does Together for Europe need to do to enhance its visibility?
There are more than 300 Movements and Communities involved in Together for Europe, and as such they already offer a visible witness of collaboration and unity. Besides the declaration of common values, and the praying together on special occasions, one may see what they already do together to respond to the above-mentioned challenges. Today, what gains visibility are common actions, which are then narrated in such a way as to create adhesion and sharing. Together for Europe ought to develop gradually this aspect by having more projects of common actions.
One project could be a permanent platform for dialogue between Eastern and Western Countries. The 2017 Vienna meeting of Together made a first step. Representatives from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Russia started a dialogue with the Western Countries. The commitment (and the effort) to go beyond the differences and the critical situations, which were often obstacles in the way of mutual understanding between East and West, was quite evident. This path could lead to a collaboration regarding diverse issues, like the concept of Nation, State-Church relations, human rights, the demands of unity and truth, etc..
Through various projects on an ecclesial, political, economic and civil kevel, Together for Europe is forming an ever increasing network of citizens committed to a “Christian revival of Europe”, where criticism is put aside and the focus is upon the growth of everyone, all together.
An international team of professionals are preparing a video clip to mark the 20th anniversary of Together for Europe, which will be celebrated at Ottmaring (Germany) this November.
“The latest events of Together for Europe have lead us back to Klagenfurt, Ottmaring and Munich; that is where we started to discover its current identity and the meaning of the experience of these 20 years of journeying together. In November, on the occasion of this anniversary, we will make use of interviews and videos to narrate how this network is currently made up and what it does. Working with various persons we saw that it is possible to live unity in the diversity, and that the various charisms may be the answer to problems; indeed, Europe has an urgent need to engage in a constructive dialogue with the diverse Churches, Communities, Movements, peoples, etc.”. That is what Dalma Timár, from Hungary, stated. She is an expert on video editing and together with Vera Bohus, also from Hungary and a camera operator, as well as with Cinzia Panero, an Italian director, are involved in this original European experience.
We are presenting in advance some excerpts from the numerous interviews they conducted.
Friendship is a most important theme for Together for Europe. The kind of friendship that effectively unites us is that which allows us to become friends of Jesus in our midst. (Sr. Nicole Grochovina, Selbitz)
For us, the culture of reciprocity is very important. We all feel it within us; it’s not something that is imposed on us. (Pavel Snoj, Ljubljana)
Together for Europe has changed my life; from the very outset I felt as if the Spirit of God has taken charge of us and was leading us forward. (Gerhard Pross, Esslingen)
I see Together for Europe as a laboratory in which, men and women, members of various Movements and Communities, clergy and lay persons of various Churches, strive to discover together how to live as Christian today in Europe. (Ilona Tóth, Budapest)
According to me we ought to start from the bottom, from the community, from the familial life between the Communities. (Matteo Fanni Canelles, Trieste)
Saturday, December 9th, YMCA-Building in Wuerzburg: about 100 people from nearly 50 initiatives, communities and movements – which are active in Germany and connected in the network Together for Europe – come together for their annual national meeting.
“Together – how otherwise?” This is the headline that summarizes for me for what we experienced on this day in Würzburg. Such a long way travelled together that has brought out what unites us and how much power reconciled togetherness has! “Indeed a „Culture of Togetherness“ becomes clear, and I wish with all of my heart that it may gain ground in our communities, in our country and in the whole of Europe”. That was how, Sr. Nicole Grochowina from Christusbruderschaft Selbitz summarized her impression of the day. And she continued: “Therefore I am fully in favor of continuing to visit each other and go beyond our borders; we should find new friends in east and west and go on to shape togetherness throughout Europe – and be enriched by this”.
Theme of the Day
Besides a review of experiences in Together for Europe 18 years after it began, this year the question about the future way forward for the ecumenical network was the focus of our shared thinking.
Many of the participants spontaneously reported about their positive experiences during the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the reformation. There were also good experiences with “Prayer for Europe” on the occasion of 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome and after the Reconciliation Service between the Protestant and Catholic Church in Hildesheim. Roswitha Fuerg, from the Focolare-Movement in Solingen was „impressed by the openness and depth in Together for Europe that has grown over the years”. The spontaneous reports of the participants showed how God leads people of different denominations and communities to get involved in this work for unity in many places“.
Fruits of Together for Europe after 18 years
Using the image of a growing tree, Sr. M. Vernita Weiss from the Schönstatt Movement made us envisage the fruits of Together for Europe after 18 years. She mentioned the deep roots from which a fruitful tree for the unity of Europe has grown and is growing.
Europe in the midst of challenges – A Culture of Togetherness
Regarding a Europe facing a lot of challenges from the political point of view, Gerhard Pross considered the task of Together for Europe first of all as living togetherness and mainly involving oneself in prayer for Europe. But a discernment of spirits is also required. „At a time, when the old negative spirits that led Europe repeatedly into disasters are coming up again, we say our No to nationalism and state more clearly our Yes to the Gospel, to reconciliation and to love (…). We say Yes to a culture of relationships and covenants – No to simplistic and ‘one size fits all’ solutions. (see also the address by Gerhard Pross in Rom, 24.3.2017
Steps towards the Future
Regarding the next steps, the participants shared the suggestions which had been developed during theannual meeting of the “Friends” of Together for Europe in Vienna. Especially highlighted were for example, encounters and mutual opportunities to meet and get to know each other with partners in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the idea to plan May 9th (already considered Europe Day) in 2018 and 2019 as a “Together for Europe Day” in the cities and regions.
„We felt a deep atmosphere of mutual appreciation and respect, but also of truth“, said Elisabeth and Hans-Georg Hagmann from Schönstatt movement describing their impressions. Johannes Golling, Leader of Julius-Schniewind-Haus e.V. (house of spirituality), summed up his experience of the day: „Meeting and visiting each other, making friends, listening to each other and being open to what is holy for the other person – that developed a dynamic exchange in the past which was illustrated today by plenty of examples”.
555th anniversary on 31st October 2017! What am I talking about? Let me explain: 500 years since Luther’s Reformation, 50 years since I was born and 5 years since I have moved to Austria.
When I realised this coincidence, I wondered how to celebrate the big round anniversary uniting my personal history with the ecumenical one.
I am a Swiss citizen; my mother is reformed and my father Catholic. My siblings and I were baptised into the Reformed Church, but after we went our separate ways. As a child I joined the Catholic Church, hence my strong passion for the unity of Churches. I now live in a Focolare community in Vienna.
Some time ago, in a meeting of consecrated people in the Ecumenical Centre in Ottmaring, attended by the Lutheran Bishop Emeritus Herwig Sturm, I presented a performance on Luther, based on images, spoken word and dance (I am a ballet dancer by profession). It occurred to me, why not celebrate my birthday by offering the same performance to the public?
Roswitha M. Oberfeld Foto: privat
Roswitha M. Oberfeld Foto: privat
Roswitha M. Oberfeld Foto: privat
On 29th October, more than 60 people gathered in Am Spiegeln, in the Meeting Centre of the Focolare Movement in Vienna, for my ‘ecumenical birthday show’. Instead of bringing birthday gifts, I asked my guests to offer a contribution towards translations of the meeting of Friends of the ecumenical network Together for Europe which was to take place in the Meeting Centre a few days after my birthday.
What a joyful occasion it has been to bring the money raised through the show to the International Steering Committee of Together for Europe!
Am 7. Juni haben wir endlich unser Miteinander – Gebet für Europa durchführen können, das von 5 Gemeinschaften vorbereitet wurde. Es waren etwa 150 Personen anwesend, die in einer tiefen Atmosphäre der Gemeinschaft für die Zukunft Europas gebetet haben.
In Slovenia si sono svolte veglie di preghiera per l’Europa in 17 città e paesi. Diversi luoghi hanno visto la partecipazioni di Vescovi, come a Ljubljana, l’arcivescovo Stanislav Zore, a Strunjan, Il vescovo Jurij Bizjak, nella diocesi di Celje, il vescovo. Stanislav Lipovšek, a Novo Mesto il vescovo, Andrej Glavan.
L’iniziativa è stata accolta e seguita dai media. Nel giornale cattolico nazionale “Družina” (La famiglia), con tiratura di oltre 30.000 copie, è uscito un articolo con il titolo: “Per l ‘Europa dello Spirito, vieni ed aiutaci”.
La settimana prima delle varie iniziative, alla radio cattolica nazionale “Radio Ognjišče”, molto ascoltata in Slovenia, varie volte al giorno è stata data la notizia di questo avvenimento. Diverse le interviste, tra cui quella con il comitato nazionale di Insieme per l’Europa.
Nella città di Strunjan, la chiesa era piena dalle ore 18 della sera del 24 marzo fino alle ore 9 del giorno successivo. Il coro era composto da giovani di diversi Movimenti. Tutto molto solenne e partecipato, tanto che la TV nazionale slovena, canale 1, ha scelto di mandare in onda un servizio “Orizzonti dello Spirito” (link della trasmissione).
Mons. Galantino, Secretary General of the Italian Bishops’ Conference
«You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world».
In order to appreciate the force and the scope of this expression, we need to reflect on the preceding verses (Matthew 5:1-12), in which Jesus proclaimed the Beatitudes. In this wider context, we will see that the concluding statement «You are the salt… you are the light» is by no means a praise that Jesus confers on his disciples! Instead, having proclaimed the Beatitudes, Jesus wishes to say to his disciples: Look, only if your life is spent according to the logic of the Beatitudes … are you the salt and light of the earth; only if you live following the logic of the Beatitudes does your presence contribute to adding taste and beauty to your own life and that of others.
I wanted to state this premise, because many of us still think that simply by introducing themselves as “Christians” do they deserve to be given credit, and in their being to have recognised the function of “light” (points of reference) and of “salt” (bearers of sense). This goes for us all, and probably too for all Christian traditions and for all those belonging to any faith. It seems to me that this is a temptation that can affect simply anyone, from any background, independently of their religious background. There are even those who think that by dressing or speaking in a certain way they are automatically considered as people who have the ability to confer new taste and new meaning to life!
For the Beatitudes to be followed immediately by the statement «You are the salt … you are the light», Jesus is showing the path a person of Faith must take. Jesus’ disciples follow a path clearly sign-posted by the Beatitudes. A passion for works of peace, merciful attention towards others, a life lived in poverty and marked by sobriety. This is what gives meaning and taste to the life of a believer, transforming it into a luminous life.
Instead of seeking to give taste and add splendour through tangible gestures and choices, as asked Jesus asks of us, we “busy ourselves” with showing off. Instead of giving light, we sometimes prefer to organise pompous events for show.
The Gospel however does not ask for this! Instead it gives us instructions – which at times may appear banal – as when it affirms that love is not to be shown off, but rather is to be lived; and when it is lived, it reveals itself. Therefore, things need not be shown off to be authentic, they just need to be authentic. Light is not to be put on display, it needs only to be turned on and made visible.
When Jesus states ««You are the salt … you are the light …», it is as if he was saying to us: Would you like to get to know God? Do not discuss Him, do not try to convince anyone; rather do something tangible; something beautiful, meaningful, something that can truly be savoured… So that those who see it, will spontaneously say what beautiful things you do and live! Who makes you do that? In whose name do you do that?
This is how God wants to be shown and witnessed! With the strength and clarity of light; the distinct taste of salt: through tangible choices and gestures which emanate and give life its true flavour.
Many of our pastoral choices, and many of the positions we adopt in relation to the society in which we live, especially those which bring with them a tendency to show off and convince, are in the end only distractions. They eventually cloud the one and only approach suggested by the Gospel: that of evidence/witness; which entails making choices and gestures that make evident the abundance of “taste” in a life lived following Jesus. If the life of a believer is presented in this way, as a life replete with meaning, in short, a fullfilled life, then everything else we say, write or convey will aquire a new meaning!
So, what does is mean to be salt, to be light? What can give taste and radiance to our life of faith?
We can do it by finding new ways, opening up to new possibilities, being more daring and fighting against fatalism and the force of habit: two lethal diseases for anyone, not just believers!
We need to start smiling again in such a way that whoever meets this smile smiles in return. They will smile because they sense that they have encountered a person who is not a warmonger, someone who does not discriminate like “little souls” do. So, we need to go back to smiling and make our smiles contagious. Our being should be radiant without claiming to be blinding; and our being brings salt in the measure that emphasises other tastes without obliterating them. Just think of the bother caused by a blinding light or an excessively salty dish!
Be light and salt in the way that respects those you meet!
There is a great sensitivity required of a believer, particularly today!
We can never remind ourselves enough of Peter’s advice in his first letter: «Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…». (1 Peter 3:15-16)
Let us pray with Matthew 5:13-16
Lord, You have asked me to be “salt”. You have therefore asked me to remain connected to the earth, to be present in my temple, here and now. Attentive to my own needs and to the needs of those beside me. You have asked me to be “light”, at a time when darkness appears to have thickened. The light enables me to see the outlines and colours of things, of reality and of the world in their nuance and in their beauty. It also allows me to learn of their countless needs. Give taste, oh, Lord, to my life; make my hopes consistent; put trust into my fears; put light into my darkness, and peace into my heart, my thoughts, my feelings. Help me understand, oh Lord, that to be “salt” means to be temperate, at this time of arrogance; a peacemaker, at this time of overpowering; free from “things”, at this time when a person’s worth is measured by their bank account. Help me understand, that I will be real “salt” and real “light” if I commit to denounce every western exploitation where well-being is founded on an usurpation of authenticity. I will be “salt of the earth” if with and in my environment, I do not renounce to look face-to-face to the needs of others.
Andrea Riccardi, Founder of Community of Sant’Egidio
Let us not deny it: many Europeans feel lost and disorientated. Where is Europe going? Will it resist the temptation of division? Europe does not seem to protect its citizens any more. In fact, it is travelling in the opposite direction than that envisaged by the Founding Fathers of Europe, who had a living memory of the horrors of the war, of the walls of hatred, of death camps and ruins. Today the generation that remembers that history, is gone. Not much attention is given to history, instead we busy ourselves with the current politics replete with emotions and anxieties. Resorting to war has returned to being considered as “normal”, no matter how insane this appears to those who saw how – even yesterday in Iraq or in Libya- war only begets war.
Europe cannot live without memory. If we are to be the continent of the future, we need to be the continent of memories. The great peace, which has lasted for seventy years and which was built solidly after centuries of war needs to be remembered. It is the fruit of a united Europe where peace has brought about prosperity and the development of a culture with ancient roots. This is the reality that stands out clearly, even clearer than the emotions and scares that preside over our present time. This Europe represents our peace and our prosperity.
The crisis of Europe began when it was arrested in its progress by national, group and individual selfish interests. They blocked Europe’s flight and prevented it from becoming a world leader, with a common foreign and defence policy. Not only peace for Europe, but a common peace policy for the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Africa and the world. “Europe, the gentle power” – as Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, one of the founders of the European Single Currency, used to say. These selfish interests threaten to stop and devour Europe from within. They push for self-determination and for the other to be seen as a threat. In turn borders gain a new meaning: borders to restrain immigrants, borders between generations, between rich and poor, between North and South of Europe.
Borders can turn into barriers, walls. As if to protect ‘us’ from the tragedies of the world. On the contrary. The cruel war in Syria, which has lasted for 6 years, more than the First World War, also concerns Europe. It is merely an illusion that the walls are there to protect: in reality they witness to failure. They are the Maginot line of Europe’s moral and political defeat.
In a global world, history does not have embankments, but it needs strong and coherent actors. It demands that we advance united, without turning back to seek shelter according to group or nation, in reaction to new global circumstances. There is no turning back. The boat of national self-sufficiency has sailed. Today, we have to take into account the scale of the challenges and of life. In today’s global and interdependent world, Europe, closed and divided, will be flooded by other markets and by other economic and political giants. In the narrative of globalisation, Europe needs to come more to the fore – if we want it to be a place for young people, with our identity of humanism, religion and law intact, rather than merely a retirement place for the next few years for our generation. A world without Europe will lack a power of peace and of historical wisdom.
Today, we are here gathered among Christians. The idea of Europe was not linked to a particular religion, but was itself deeply Christian. And it grew with the Church’s passion of that time. Today, however, when East and West go two separate ways, when the great European ideal, which expresses a Christian extroversion is shaking, where are the voices of Christians? And those of the Churches? When borders turn into walls in front of refugees, where are these voices? When this world is running the risk of getting involved in another war, there is often silence.
The strong voice of Pope Francis – in his address for the Charlemagne Prize – remains isolated in a Christianity as fragmented as Europe itself, incapable of leaving behind group or ecclesial ego-centrism, incapable seemingly of a new vision. Is our joint prayer, the Word of God capable, as in the time of the prophets, of nourishing a new vision for our times in the hearts and minds of our people. We need to start to think and act again in ways that are inspired by a great vision, because for too long now we have been living within narrow dimensions, feeding on words without light. Karol Wojtyla wrote at a time when Europe was divided by a wall: “the world mostly suffers from a lack of vision”.
Together – for – Europe. There is no more exact way to express the importance this holds for us: Together – for – Europe”.
We are an ecumenical network of more than 300 Christian Communities and Movements. We come from 30 European countries, spanning from the Ural Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. We speak different languages, live in different cultures and belong to different Churches: among us are Catholics, Evangelical, Orthodox, Anglicans and members of Free Churches. We follow a variety of spiritualities each different from the other.
And yet, based on our experience, we are convinced that unity is possible. Our shared journey began with a deep moment of reconciliation among a group of leaders of our Movements. Unity became possible.
We live unity in diversity, in such a way that the uniqueness of each person remains intact. From reconciliation in Christ stems the ability to experience the diversity of the other as an enrichment.
Today in a special way, we remember three of the networks’ founders, who are now in Heaven: Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focolare Movement, who had the first impulse to begin; Helmut Nicklas, responsible of CVJM (YMCA) Munich, the ‘architect’ of the Together for Europe project; and Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, whose input has been precious in terms of the link between charism and ministry.
When in 2004, Together for Europe held in Stuttgart a large event for some 10,000 participants, Europe was celebrating the entry in the EU of new member states. In 2016, however, at the time of our international Congress which was followed by a large Public Rally in Munich, only three days after Brexit, the mood in Europe was quite different. We have been and continue to be aware that Europe is experiencing a period of turmoil. The European Union seemingly lurches from crisis to crisis.
In times such as these, punctured by acts of terrorism, we publicly proclaimed, with thousands of people during the 2016 event in Munich, loud and clear, our YES to Europe. “In Europe, there is no alternative to being together”, were the opening words of the concluding message in Munich.
If I may express this, in a personal way and as a spokesperson for Together for Europe… I was deeply touched by the network’s event in Munich and it put Europe on the first place on my agenda. For 17 years, we have been on this journey together, but never before has giving our YES to Europe resonated with such importance.
In times marked by an upsurge of populism, selfishness and nationalism we give our YES to relationship and alliance.
In times marked by a return of negative fanaticisms which in the past brought catastrophe upon catastrophe, we give our YES to the Gospel, to reconciliation and to love.
Within our Movements we need to wake up to the awareness of the urgency of giving our YES to Europe.
As Communities and Movements, we should not hold back in expressing publicly our YES to Europe.
We work for a Europe that is Together. For a Europe that recognises diversity as enrichment and lives together in peace and unity. And last but not least,
God, throughout history, has entrusted this Continent with the mission to connect and bring closer heaven and earth, faith and its impact on the world, since on the Cross, Heaven and earth meet.
Today on the eve of the celebrations of the “Treaties of Rome” we come together to pray and to re-state, as always, that as Christian Communities and Movements we count – besides our own commitment – on the help of God.
Hon. David-Maria Sassoli, Member of the European Parliament, Italy, Democratic Party
Honourable Sassoli, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which marks the beginning of the European Union, many point out that Europe has lost its Christian roots, placing too much emphasis perhaps on finance, bureaucracy and national interests, incapable of showing solidarity and welcome, or encouraging development focused on the human person. What are your thoughts?
“It is important that Christians make themselves heard more, there should be networks among Christians which would provide a witness and example to others. There is no doubt, values such as peace, co-existence, solidarity and justice, which are of Christian origin, are today also considered as paradigms of political, cultural and moral commitment by citizens who are not themselves Christian. These are the key values that constitute European identity: something Christians ought to be happy with, because within what is considered the European identity, as such, are these precisely Christian values. What needs to be done now is to explain everything well to European citizens. Currently the idea of Europe frightens and makes people anxious. It appears burdensome, instead we need to show the value of unity to the peoples of Europe. What is also at stake here, the challenge for this Century, is to shape a global market. Globalisation without rules leads to marginalisation, poverty and misery, and environmental catastrophes. The great challenge Europe continues to face is to give rules and values to the world. Market rules which do not successfully safeguard human rights, freedom and democracy would be merely economic allowing the stronger to win, and this is not what we want. So, the challenge is this: Christian values which are at the basis of European identity today must provide the key elements to face this great global challenge”.
In the context of overcoming the divisions between countries that are economically more or less developed, we often speak about a “two-tier Europe”, what is your view on this?
“If this means that there would be countries of class A and class B, then that is wrong. Instead, if it means that non-member countries can collaborate, under the ‘closer cooperation’ provision of the Lisbon Treaty, in the context of joint policies, without upsetting EU standards, then it could be interesting. This is how the euro was introduced – with a closer cooperation starting from ten, eleven countries and others joined in later. Because within EU mechanisms it is effectively difficult to achieve unanimity. If there were countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium and others which were to opt for a common defence solution, that would be great: we would have a core which would lead the way that others might follow”.
There has been much discussion about the necessity to review the Treaties. It was underlined also by Pope Francis in his speech at the European Parliament in May 2016, on the occasion of the Conferral of Charlemagne Prize. In what way do you believe they need to be modified?
“They should be changed, I would be in favour of arriving eventually at a European Constitution, but realistically and with regret I need to say that currently it might be very dangerous to re-open a discussion on the Treaties, so one needs to be very careful. Who knows what the outcome would be for Europe if we reopened the debate on Schengen with the current nationalist governments afraid of the influx of immigrants? It is better to focus on those policies which can contribute to developing Europe, because beyond institutions, rules and treaties, that is what is now needed most of all”.
Luca Maria Negro, Baptist Pastor, President of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in Italy (FCEI)
An event like the one tonight, where different Christian Churches unite in prayer shows that unity in diversity is possible. How can one reconcile the affirmation and safeguarding of own’s identity and traditions with the encounter and openness to the other?
“As an ecumenical body, we have had experience of this dynamic for over 50 years, because our Movement has as its motto ‘united but different’, that is to say united whilst respecting the charism of each of the churches. This is close also to the motto of the European Union, indeed we are not sure whether it derives deliberately from the Ecumenical Movement’s motto, in any case we believe that today it is more valid than ever before. Unfortunately, it appears as if Europe has lost its soul. We do not want to arrogantly claim to be the soul of Europe, however, as Churches we wish to strongly witness that ecumenism, dialogue, building of societies in dialogue, and the promotion of lay ecumenism within society are essential”.
To recover those Christian values that constitute Europe’s very foundations means to offer a heritage pertinent to all peoples, not only to Christians…
“As protestants, we do not emphasise the recovering of Christian values in any particular way as not to seem to want to force them also on those who do not share our faith. There are, however, values such as dialogue and solidarity, which are also Christian and which can be shared by all people of good will. This is what we aim for, the rediscovery of values out of which Europe was born. Because let us not forget that while it is true that many Christians contributed to the growth of Europe, there were also many others who founded it. Over the last days, we recalled the fact that the European Federalist Movement in Italy started in the house of a Waldensian, Mario Alberto Rollier, there were however others, non-believers such as Altiero Spinelli, meeting together and working to build a united Europe”.
How do people learn, in practical terms, to dialogue?
“How do people learn to walk? By practicing walking. The same goes for dialogue. You need to make a start, to come out of yourself. You will make mistakes, because at times it is easy to, despite your best will, hurt the other and their feelings. In this context, the Ecumenical Movement certainly has much experience to offer to those who are new to dialogue”.
Dr. Donato Falmi, former Director of the Italian New City Publishing House and Co-responsible for the Focolare Movement in Rome and Central Italy
Looking at Europe today, divided and lost, it seems that Chiara Lubich had a prophetic intuition, back in 1999, when she began establishing an international ecumenical network of Christian Movements…
“It was prophetic in that Chiara had foreseen the obstacles that unity in Europe would encounter, and the need for a fundamental, perhaps hidden spiritual force capable of facing up to the negative and disintegrating tendencies present in Europe today. When Chiara lunched this idea, the European ideal was still popular, today it needs to be rediscovered. Had we not had the experience of this journey together, we would be ill equipped to face today’s challenges. It is, beyond any declaration of principles, a practical way of giving Europe back its Christian soul, putting Christianity back as the foundation of Europe (…). The experience made together by Movements and Churches belonging to different ‘Christian souls’ – because Christianity is made up of one reality with many different expressions – might be just the right way to show that Europe has a Christian foundation. In this sense, Chiara’s intuition was ingenious”.
Pope Francis emphasised dialogue as the one thing needed in order to build Europe with more unity and solidarity. And it is in dialogue that the Focolare Movement, since its very beginnings, has found a path to unity. What does it mean to lead a dialogue – and how can one learn how to dialogue?
“Chiara makes a rediscovery of the nature of God itself, of God who is love. Another term for ‘love’, a term that expresses the dynamics of a loving relationship, is ‘dialogue’. What is more dialogic than love? On the other hand, there is no real dialogue without love. This is because dialogue requires a welcoming of the other and forgetting of self (not negation of self, but a sort of stepping back in order to welcome another). That is a basic rule. Once it has been established, dialogue becomes fundamentally the only way to achieve unity, because it both respects diversity whilst focusing on what is good and what unites”.
In the last years, there has been a proliferation of populist and so-called sovereignty movements. Perhaps Europe needs an examination of conscience to ask itself what went wrong and where to go next?
“What we are witnessing is a result of Europe’s focus on material wellbeing. Europe has developed to the benefit of the entire world, with values such as those summed up by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and signed by the world leaders, it has, however, also been affected by the temptation to settle on wellbeing of a material character, forgetting the depths of the human person. In achieving the highest objectives of human civilisation, Europe also reached a level of wellbeing which made it forget deeper preconditions of civil co-existence. Today we are paying the price for this. We have, nevertheless, also been rediscovering forgotten values, and becoming aware that material well-being has its own value in the right place, together with other values which need to come first.”
Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Europe, 24th March 2017 – Interview with Card. Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Your Eminence, this Vigil prayer which has brought together different Christian denominations shows that unity in diversity is possible. What sort of example can an evening such as this offer to a Europe still divided and torn on basic issues?
“This Prayer evening has been organised by Movements belonging to different Churches: there is a great variety and diversity present, however there is also unity, all of us are together – for Europe. This reconciliation between unity and diversity is very important for Europe, which is called to embody unity without negating diversity. In fact, there needs to be a greater understanding of diversity in order for all of countries to contribute effectively to building unity”.
One of the objectives of this group which unites different Christian Movements is to identify so-called “signs of the time”, that is to say, those signals which at any given time in human history indicate the direction in which humanity is advancing, however slowly towards unity. Can you yourself discern such signs?
“The greatest challenge of today is related to the influx of refugees. The challenge is for Europe to welcome them, to be open to them. There is a saying: “If I only know England I don’t really know England”, of course this saying is equally valid for any other country, like Italy or France, etc. So, realising that the other is not my enemy, is a good thing: once this has been established, everything will proceed well”.
Pope Francis stressed that peace is achieved through integration, dialogue and work, and that for Europe work is, on the political level, a priority. What is your view in this regard?
“It is fundamental that everyone be able to access employment. This is a big challenge because it concerns the very dignity of the human person. Within the working environment then what matters is collaboration, that there be no contempt between co-workers… So, the opportunity for everyone to access dignified employment clearly contributes to the unity of Europe”.
Fr. Heinrich Walter, Responsible for International Coordination of the Schoenstatt Movement
In your view, what contribution can Pope Francis offer to the building of a Europe in which there is more solidarity and more inspiration drawn from Christian values?
“Being of Argentinian origin, I believe the Pope sees Europe differently than we do, more objectively, and understands that Europe is frightened and as a result is lacking vitality. Pope Francis is enthusiastic and understands very well that what the world as a whole needs its renewal.”.
What witness can Christian Churches united in their diversity offer Europe?
“In this Europe in crisis countries lack the ability to offer solutions based on their own individual resources. Some countries have suffered excessive pressure due to the refugee emergency situation. What is needed is an alliance among the countries of Europe, so that each can offer a contribution freely to an overall solution”.
Ecumenical and International Prayer Vigil – Faith opens up to culture
On the eve of 24th of March 2017, the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles (Basilica dei XII Apostoli) in Rome was heaving with some 750 people who gathered for a Vigil commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the signing of Treaties of Rome presided by Card. Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans, clergy and lay gathered, taking up the invitation of Together for Europe, a joint initiative of over 300 Christian Movements and Communities. Together for Europe was also represented at the Vigil by a choir composed of eight Movements and by a choir of the Romanian Orthodox Church.
President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella sent a message to the Vigil participants, in which he expressed his “desire to have been present and his firm conviction that such moments of encounter, offer a strong sign of hope, necessary in building a Europe of unity and solidarity.”
Mons. Nunzio Galantino, Secretary–General of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Andrea Ricardi (founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio) and Gerhard Pross (current moderator of Together for Europe) spoke during the programme on various aspects of the crisis currently gripping the European continent, provoked by among other things, national greed on both collective and individual levels. They launched an invitation to uphold the belief of the Founding Fathers in the European project and to strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world (Preamble to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, declared by Heads of State on 29th October 2004).
The Trisagion hymn “Holy God, Holy Mighty!”, sung by a gathering themselves deeply moved, sounded particularly powerful and solemn against such a backdrop.
In an interview, Fr. Heinrich Walter of the Schoenstatt Movement, emphasised: “There are two key moments on the journey towards renewed European integration. Firstly, the Christian roots of Europe ought to be nourished. This is something which the Movements have been working for. Secondly, we must respect the freedom of others. We try to do this within the Together for Europe network and we wish to share this experience of ours with all of Europe.”
After the Vigil, Symeon Catsinas, a Greek Orthodox parish priest in Rome, shared his joy: “I am very happy with this evening’s event. As Christians, we need to work together in order to offer a joint witness. It is imperative that we follow on this path together.”
When asked if the document “From Conflict to Communion” can be regarded as a model for Europe, the dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Italy, Pastor Heiner Bludau, said: “The document certainly shows a positive step. We now need to see its impact on life in order for it to be a convincing model for all of Europe.”
The words of high politics and those of Holy Scriptures resounded as if on the same level. Jesus Moran, Co-President of the Focolare Movement, said: “Europe is unthinkable without Christianity. Christianity which formed Europe is the Christianity of a united Church: ecumenical “Catholicism” (universality) therefore is the most fundamental reality of Europe. As such, Europe needs to rediscover itself as a civilization of Christianity. Christian values are European values and vice-versa. Culture of dialogue, tolerance, openness and brotherhood can be lived beyond any denomination, religion or creed. This Vigil will serve to re-awaken these great values.”
Over 4,000 people followed the event live and it was widely shared on social media.
In 50 European cities, parallel events of solemn prayer were held, and were well attended. The voice of Together of Europe was made heard loud and clear!
The contribution of Religious Orders and Institutes towards unity in Europe
During the times of the Roman Empire, Europe experienced a period characterised by a certain type of unification. This was a fragile unity forcefully imposed by “Roman legions”. With the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe found itself once again fragmented, with ethnic and cultural differences reasserting themselves as each of its peoples sought to restate their own sense of identity. By the 5th century, Europe was full of different rival groups.
During this period and in centuries to follow, the presence of certain men and women guided by the Spirit, inspired in the peoples of Europe new ideals and universals values, mostly rooted in the Judeo-Christian heritage. They were values and ideals that brought European peoples into dialogue, sharing their respective riches and in this way generating a new, unitary social and cultural fabric for the Continent.
In a conference, a few years ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper said: “Saints like Martin, Benedict, Boniface, brothers Cyril and Methodius, Adalbert, Bernard, Francis, Dominic and many others, moulded the history of Europe. Through these saintly men and countless saintly women, the Church made a precious contribution to the unity and the sense of identity of Europe”.
These individuals gave rise to new spiritualities, spiritual movements, religious orders and centres of cultural and social works, that helped the peoples of Europe to gradually develop an identity based on shared values.
The first big charismatic order originated from Benedict of Nursia (Italy, 480-547). Benedictine Monasticism, brought about by Benedict both in Africa and in the East as well as in the West, was in its many historical expressions a determining factor for the evangelisation of the Continent whilst contributing to the formation of European medieval culture. In short, it played a crucial part in establishing the dialogue between values of the Roman civilisation, Judeo-Christian values and those of the so-called “barbarian” cultures that were introduced to the Continent by the peoples of the North and East in the centuries to follow.
The religious brothers of the order of Saint Benedict with their widely disseminated and sizable abbeys, established centres of spirituality, which also served as centres of culture, human empowerment and social and economic progress, putting themselves mostly at the service of the poor and marginalised.
In the 11th century in Eastern Europe, Cyril and Methodius, two monks of Greek origin, having evangelised peoples of Eastern Europe, started a process which, it can be argued, led to the foundation of the Slavic culture. The breakthrough of these brothers from Salonica (Greece) consisted in the creation of a new alphabet, whilst they were in contact with Western Greco-Roman culture; in this way, they made a decisive contribution to what would become the literature and culture of Slavic nations.
Between the 11th and the first half of the 12th century, other charismatic individuals and great cultural figures emerged. One of these, Bernard of Clairvaux, hailing from the tradition of Benedictine Monasticism founded a new movement, the Cistercian order.
In the 13th century the Mendicant Friars emerged giving rise to many other charismatic movements. These originated from charismatic figures in individual nations, fast developing into supra-national movements spreading all over the Continent and in turn to the rest of the world.
Among these the Dominican movement stands out, founded in Spain by Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) and the Franciscan movement, which itself originated in Italy with Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Religious movements whilst rooted in deep spirituality were able to inspire and promote many aspects of human culture and knowledge. They developed theology, philosophy, literature, sciences, arts. At the time and in the centuries to follow, every European university, would number among its lecturers and pupils, friars from the Mendicant orders.
With the arrival of Humanism and the Renaissance, powerful nations were established. This process was contributed to in a decisive way both by established charismatic movements as well as new charisms which grew and spread.
Many new religious orders were established in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit order; Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross and the Carmelites in Spain; the Brothers of Mercy of John of God who cared for the sick; in France, Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of Charity; Francis de Sales, John Baptist de La Salle known for the formation of young people and for the setting up of schools accessible to all; Philip Neri with the Oratory, in Italy, Girolamo Emiliani, Cajetan of Thiene, Camillo de Lellis who operated in the hospitals, and so on. At around the same time the Capuchin reform emerged from the Franciscan tradition and in Germany the great reform of Martin Luther took place.
Many other new spiritualities made a key contribution to the cultural, social and economic identity of modern Europe. Each charism was born with a strong spiritual identity, while sensitive and open to issues, challenges, social and human needs of peoples and individuals. This allowed access to culture, health care, housing, human rights, economy and dignified human life to an ever-growing number of European citizens.
The same phenomenon can be seen in the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite the abolition of religious orders imposed first by Napoleon and later by several European States, countless religious institutes and orders were established. In the 19th century we cannot go without mentioning Don John Bosco and the Salesians (Turin, Italy), John Benedict Cottolengo and Joseph Cafasso, who looked after the sick and the marginalised; in England, the contribution of bishop John Henry Newman, and so on.
In the 20th century Europe, besides the establishment of new religious orders such as those set up by Don James Alberione, Don Luigi Orione, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Edith Stein, Maximilian Kolbe and others, saw the beginnings of many other expressions of charismatic life which manifested themselves as vast lay ecclesial movements. Each with its own strong spiritual identity, but also with a great sensitivity to the dramatic challenges brought to our Continent by modernity.
Europe would be poorer and more fragile were it not for the contribution offered in the past by orders and religious institutes and today by the wealth of ecclesial movements which have emerged within different Churches and Christian Communities.
These spiritual and charismatic forces, whilst born in precise geographical locations, have spread beyond national borders, offering in this way a powerful and decisive contribution to the constituting of a united, strong, free, sympathetic and brotherly Europe.
Fr Egidio Canil, Sacro Convento of the Franciscans in Assisi, Italy
With the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome approaching, people in European cities gather to give witness to a Europe focused more than ever on dialogue and brotherhood. Trieste is one of them.
60 years ago, the Founding Fathers of Europe took the first steps on a path which would lead to greater European unity against the stench of blood and smoke and the rubble of a war driven by nationalist and racist extremism in Europe and which subsequently spread throughout the world. Only a comprehensive reformation including international, political, civic, economic, cultural and religious relationships between peoples and communities would be capable of paving a new way to help Europeans to emerge from a culture of widespread hatred.
60 years after the historic days which marked the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, we re-affirm European unity as the indispensable means to maintaining peace and peaceful co-existence. Despite the failings, undeniable gaps, rigidities, bureaucratic excesses, misunderstandings and serious inequalities of the European Union, the advantages of the re-composition of Europe largely prevail. We must strive to continue on and to perfect the path we have undertaken, rather than obliterate it, as called for by nationalist and separatist voices, something that would only serve to draw us back into peace-threatening situations.
More than four million young European students have benefited from the Erasmus program in terms of formation and knowledge. Equally significant has been the number of European professionals, who have taken advantage of the freedom afforded by mobility within the EU which has facilitated the acquisition of expertise, as well as increased cultural, technological, commercial and economic exchange. Many young people have put themselves at the service of other European countries to their own, through the European Voluntary Service. A broad scholarly exchange has been made possible thanks to collaborations between universities. Improvements across a range of areas such as occupational and environmental safety, health care, tourism and culture, have been achieved through European directives that are reflected in national legislation. Religious communities have also set in motion processes for unification and integration extending to all Christian Churches and every religion.
We cannot afford to give up such benefits. Instead we must intensify and uphold this model for the sake of all European peoples who have suffered enough. In order to re-affirm this commitment, we will meet on 24th of March at 6pm in St. James’ Oratory (Oratorio di S. Giacomo) in Trieste for an evening of celebration marking this 60th anniversary. Promoting the event are approximately twenty associations, movements and communities, that all form part of a broader initiative called Together for Europe, which for the last 17 years has been active in many European cities, including Trieste. Together for Europe brings together the faithful of different religions, non-believers and people of good will who, rather than conflict seek peace and encounter. This will be an evening of reflection, brotherhood and celebration motivated by our own awareness of the urgent need to rediscover the importance of coming together in solidarity.
For the Coordination team of Together for Europe for Trieste, Italy
Photo Trieste: Di ryogt www.flickr.com/photos/ryogt/12980775/, CC BY-SA 2.0
After the news of last Friday morning, the day after “Brexit”, the members of the Steering Committee of Together for Europe unanimously declared: The European Conference from 30th June to 1st July and the 2nd July Outdoor Rally in the “Karlsplatz”- the square in the centre of Monaco takes on a new, broader meaning.
Fr. Heinrich Walter, from the Schoenstatt Movement, appeared shocked but decisive: “Now our ‘Together’ becomes even more a sign of hope against hope. The Christian source is central to the issue of identity. On the historical background of this week, God himself makes Together for Europe a prophetic sign. “
Gerhard Proß of the Esslingen YMCA and spokesperson for the initiative in Germany said: “It is now more important than ever that Munich sends out a clear sign to Together for Europe – a sign of communion, against the selfishness and fears of our time. I think it is significant that it will be Pope Francis, Andrea Riccardi and Jeff Fountain who address the central message to Europe, and not the politicians. “
And from Rome, Maria Voce, President of Focolare Movement, said: “This referendum confirms that it is not politics or economics that will make a united Europe but the values shared by Europeans. Together for Europe could not come at a better time. “