Religion and Society in times of Covid-19


Final statement international workshop of Justice and Peace Europe 2020

The Conference ofEuropean Justice and Peace Commission (Justice and Peace Europe) held its annualInternational Workshop on 10 and 11 October in an online format. Fifty participants from over twenty different countries and commissions were involved. The theme of the International Workshop this yearwas"Religion and Society in times of Covid-19".

A first webinar of the International Workshop dealt with "Perspectives for the Conference on the Future of Europe in times of Covid-19". The Conference on the Future of Europe was to start already in May. Because of the pandemic and a lack of agreement, still to be resolved, between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union,its timing, agendaand organisational details still remain unclear.A particular challenge for the Conferenceon the Future of Europewill be the need to also rethink the relations with countries, that do notor do no longerbelong to European Union and other transnational European organisations like the OSCE and the Council of Europe, where Justice and Peace Europe holds a participatory status. Especially the link with the Council of Europe is particularly important for the respect for human dignity and human rights.

Herman van Rompuy, former President of the European Council,who was among the speakers of the panel said that the Conference on the Future of Europe was necessary because of the human impact and catastrophe caused bythe pandemic andalso because the world at large has undergone profound and massive change in recent years. However,he pledged to "keep the Conference away from a debate about institutional innovations -except in foreign policy and on competences ; institutional issues, he opined, threatento absorb all the political energy and divert us from the debate on the Union's substantive policy priorities, namely climate change, our 'strategic autonomy', migration, security in all its aspects, health, inequalities and solidarity in all areas -including climate, migration, convergence, reconversion -the rule of law.

Paulo Rangel, Member of the European Parliamentfor the European People's Partyand another panelist,saidin his statement that the functioning and the powers of the European Union needed to be revisited, especially with regard to health and infectious diseases. The Conference on the Future of Europe would consist of two phases, a first part consisting of citizens'assembliesand a second more institutionalised phase. He was of the opinion that many improvements could already be obtained in the framework of the existing Treaties,whichwere amended with the Treaty of Lisbon (2009).

In his contribution the thirdpanelistDamian Boeselager, MEP, Member of the Greens and cofounder of the transnational party Volt Europe, underlined the weakening of the parliamentary democraciesand of traditional political parties. He therefore strongly supported the idea of citizens' assemblies at the European level whose participants will be randomly selected.Such assemblies could be one instrument among others to counter the prevailing sentiments of fear and anxiety.

The second webinar of the International Workshop turned to current "Challenges to dialogue in religion and society". Alexander Filipovic of the Munich School for Philosophypresented seven theseson the state of democratic dialogue in digital times. He underlined the incredible amount of public communication thanks to social networks but also the increase of negative aspects like hate-speech and fake news. He also stressed the important role of public broadcasting. The public sphere in democracies obviously isin need of new forms of regulation and especially at the European level. The ultimate goal should a renewed connection between public debate and political decision making.

Youssef Kamal El Hagefrom the Notre Dame Universityin Lebanon discussed in his contribution ways forward for Christian-Muslimdialogue in the shadow of the pandemic. He particularly stressed theimportance of Pope Francis' recent encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, which "stems from the fact that it is closely connected to the historical Document on Human Fraternity, signed in Abu Dhabi on 4thFebruary 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb". He addedthatFratelli Tuttihas been highly acclaimed by Muslim authorities, a first in the history of papal encyclicals."

The final webinar of the International Workshop took placeon Sunday 11 October with the 2020 Justice and Peace Europe lecture, which was delivered this year by Flaminia Giovanelli, the former under-secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. She drew on her experience of more than four decades of service for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to underline the inseparable connection between justice and peace. The COVID-19 pandemic had shown that health, especially with regard to infectious diseases, is a global common good. Not taking it into account accordingly not only leads to many injustices but also puts a threat to peace.

At their general assembly on Monday 12 Octoberin the light of the discussions of the International Workshop, the delegates of Justice and Peace Europechose as the theme for the Justice and Peace EuropeCommon Concerted Action 2021: "The Future of Europe and the European Union -a call for dialogue as a key to just transition".

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Europe, 12 October 2020