TOGETHER FOR EUROPE – Impressions of 1 July 2016, morning •
“That’s awesome that’s absolutely awesome!” Manuela Miller didn’t spend much time with the welcome. She and her husband, Peter, were collaborating in one of the nineteen forums on the first day of the Congress “Together for Europe”, but they didn’t have much to say about that. Their main concern was their experience of the openness for one another, the togetherness they had experienced from the first day of the congress in the countless people they met – old and new friends from their own and other Movements – and the quality of the conversations, even if the many languages were sometimes a challenge. “Do you speak German?” a woman from Munich asked the woman sitting next to her (in english!), and received the answer, “Yes, since birth!” The conversation only ended when the music announced the next item on the programme.
“The forums yesterday impressed me most”, one member of the Focolare Movement remarked. “The speakers were so convinced that this Europe needs us, that this Europe won’t work without our commitment as Christians in the economy, or without our breakfast for the poor …” “The taste of shared bread is without compare”, Sr Nocole Grochowina said, quoting an inspiration from the phrases that summed up the forums on Thursday. She formulated three: Let us sit at table with the world, with those with whom Jesus also shared a table as a friend! Let us look at our own wounds and replace the rhetoric of war with what consoles and heals! And then, accompanied by spontaneous applause: Let us be missionaries of hope in the midst of the world! One felt that this struck a chord with the thousand and more participants.
What is Europe’s position at the moment?
Prof. Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Sant’Egidio Community, reminded us of the striking moments in Europe’s recent history and its huge differences in religions, languages, tastes and cultures, and said that precisely on that account it can be a model in Christ of a globalised world. However, the Europe of the Fathers – those great Europeans who wanted to bring about peace in Europe – is not the Europe of their children. This has to be won. “The Christian faith directs a powerful message to Europe.” Again and again the people nodded in agreement as Gerard Testard (Efesia, Paris) encouraged us to bring the faith into public life and not leave it hidden in some private corner. “But that is a challenge,” was the murmured comment to the statement of Prof. Michael Hochschild, who challenged the spiritual Movements to offer an answer to Europe’s crisis, because the profound systemic crisis of modern life does not require further adaptation, but the birth of a new world. So it demands a new way of thinking and acting – and the new spiritual Movements live from a vision of the future and the willingness to shape it in practice. Society’s vagueness and lack of vision means that the Movements will have to stand the test, because they have to be not just spiritual, but also social movements that can shape society. They are not an end in themselves. What is alive and what can move is more important to people today, and the world that has to be shaped creatively, than what is bureaucratic and static. A stifled sigh from the back was the response to Prof. Hochschild’s words, “If that’s the case, we will have to change a number of things in ourselves!” followed by a whispered movement through the ranks, “Exactly! Exactly!”
Ecumanism as witness
“Differences in teaching are no longer so important if we do something practical together, because the people who seek refuge with us, and whom we feed, do not ask if we are Catholic or Evangelical”, an elderly man said with conviction as he entered the Circus Krone building early on 1 July. People automatically began to discuss things together as though they had known one another all their lives. In these days Pope Francis again spoke about the fact that the ecumenism of blood has been a reality for a long time. If Christians are persecuted and killed, no one asks them about their church membership. The ecumenism of witness, of working together, was almost tangible in Munich. “This time I am not here as a collaborator”, Erich Berger from Vienna remarked, “but simply as a participant. You just can’t miss out on this, the climate is without price!”
Herbert Lauenroth of the Focolare Movement issued a strong, spiritual appeal to overcome the fear that is turning Europe into a fortress. He encourage people to have the bravery of trapeze artists who jump, trusting that God’s strong arms would be there to catch them. With this image Herbert Lauenroth aroused the participants and at the same time sent them out to the peripheries of society, because these people at the periphery have a message that has to penetrate from the margins to the centre.
Faith, hope and love: The words of Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement, Thomas Römer of CVJM Munich, and Steffen Kern (Federation of Evangelical Churches, Wurttemberg), highlighted the mission of Together for Europe today. This Europe, that seems to be walking through the night of its dreams and visions (Maria Voce), is not condemned to be an “old” and tired continent, because “We are here, because we believe in something that doesn’t collapse”. The Apostles came to help Europe with the Gospel (Thomas Römer), and the Gospel has set its stamp on Europe with its values. It will continue to do so – in the “House of Hope” in the red light district of Stuttgart and “in the midst of Europe’s slums”. If while they are eating people go on talking about what they have heard in a talk, something is moving within them. That afternoon they were doing just that.
Original: German. Translation: Mary Cole, Manchester, UK