The two Episcopal entities in Europe, COMECE (Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community) and CCEE (Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe) together with the Archdiocese of Madrid organized the II Catholic Social Days of Europe, from 18 to 21 of September in the Conciliar Seminary and the Ecclesiastical University of San Damaso in Madrid. They have count on the Conference of Spanish Bishops’ collaboration and about 180 people, including delegates of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe and ecclesial associations and organizations of the continent, representing to 31 countries, have taken participation. They were gathered around the theme "Christian faith and the Future of Europe".
These days of reflection and debate began with a Mass, by Msgr. Juan José Omella, president of the Episcopal Commission for Social Pastoral of the Conference of Spanish Bishops. In the following days the Eucharist was chaired by each cardinal, head of an organizer entity. There was also a Prayer Vigil for Europe, the Middle East and the various crises in the world on Saturday night in the Almudena Cathedral.
The opening session began with an apostolic blessing from Pope Francisco who encouraged us to deepen the own pursuit of holiness through the strong commitment to personal prayer and conversion to offer a more coherent and joyful witness. A Church that gives greater attention to the material needs of those who suffer will also learn how to provide a more convincing proclamation of truth and salvation to those who hunger and thirst for eternal life.
Then the cardinals took part in the session as representatives of the three organizing institutions: For Cardinal Bagnasco, vice-president of the CCEE, Christians should feel responsible for Europe not to become a project with only economic lifeblood. Cardinal Rouco, Archbishop of Madrid, remembered that Benedict XVI stated, in the context of the Year of Faith, that the European crisis is a crisis of faith. Both cardinals indicated that exists in our countries an attempt to relativize the Christian roots and integral humanism which form the basis of the different constitutions of international human rights. In the centenary of the beginning of the First World, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of COMECE, expressed concern about the resurgence of conflicts on the European continent itself (Ukraine) and in its neighborhood (in Syria, Iraq). He also recalled the severe economic crisis affecting the peoples of Europe which must explore not only ways towards more solidarity but also to participate in a civilization of love that leaves nobody aside anywhere on the globe, and involves the future generations. He also warned against the rise of populism in different European countries: “turning in on ourselves” would be a mistake: the resurgence of populism and nationalism would be fatal to our families, our children, our living together.
The opening session ended with the presentation of Professor Javier Prades López, rector of San Damaso, who dealt with the concept of human person, from the transformation of the encounter with Christ in order to develop a critical and systematic reflection on person and their mystery. So “an anthropology in action” arises and shows three constituent elements of the person: the person is one in body and soul, the person has an intrinsic sexual difference (as male and female) and the individual person finds the fullness only in their natural sociality.
Crisis or Change? A unique opportunity? The perspective of changing of European society
The first session of the next day began with a space of testimony from family life, religious life and the work in politics:
- Antonis Skoullos, managing director of Oracle in Cyprus, shared the challenges that arise in his daily work and the answers he proposes as parent, business leader, Christian, and person concerned with social action. He encouraged to turn the crisis into an opportunity to awake and transform; to share, communicate, participate always in the environments where our life unfolds, responding the challenges step by step for being more effective; to be happy with less; to remain loyal to the family and to the family ethic and to think in a innovative way.
- Jaime Mayor Oreja, former member of the People's Party Group in the European Parliament pointed out the problems in the world of politics. The main one is the lack of social cohesion by the deficit and the abandonment of the values that formed the European Union. He cites as examples the family or the life. Europe has lived beyond its possibilities through new and false rights, forgetting the obligations until they that have been expelled from the political debate. This has led to a phenomenon of not appear in the cultural debate within the European institutions. This indicates that the crisis is on the person, on their attitudes and their way of life. The cause of the crisis is the relativism and the political extremism is a consequence of it.
- Deborah Córdoba Cerezo, religious of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity, summarized the motivations, workplaces and work done by her congregation among the poorest, with the help of many volunteers.
The first talk of this session was presented by Cardinal Marx with the title “A social Europe?”. It allowed to draw a comprehensive picture of the current economic, social and environmental crisis in Europe and the various challenges that Europeans must confront today. He also examined, in detail, the need to orient the European integration towards a more social Europe and also made some proposals for this shift: a social market economy with the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, being the family the basis of this economic model and having an important role the community of social responsibility; the strengthening of the social dimension in areas such as the fight against unemployment, welcoming immigrants, combating human trafficking, protection of the family and support for all family options; ecological sustainability and the fight against climate change. He believes that responsible freedom for getting on a better life for everybody is the contribution of the Catholic Church to European Union. To do this, Christians should participate actively and with openness in public life from the social doctrine of the church. This doctrine has three pillars: the teaching of the pope and the bishops, the academic study of Catholic social ethics and Catholic social movements.
Re-thinking about economy and work in a Christian perspective
In the afternoon, Economics’ Professor Stefano Zamagni from the University of Bologna (Italy), opened the second session. He said that individualism and gender theory undermine the family as a social institution. The effects of deinstitutionalization of the family are the reduction of the birth rate, the increase in divorces and separations, the average age of the population. The European Catholic Movement must work to ensure that this situation does not generalize and become irreversible. And to do this, he defines three qualifying points: switch from work-family conciliation policies to harmonization policies; center the model of welfare in Europe on the family no longer on the individual; and ultimately enhance the value of the cultural dimension.
These Catholic Social Days included workshops. In this session the following issues were addressed: the future of young people in Europe, the phenomenon of migration, the solidarity between generations, and a culture of volunteerism. The next morning were considered: the freedom of education, family policies, and human life in the technological society. The workshops were the ideal spaces for discussion and exchange of views.
The human person and the family as the basis of society and human rights
In the third session on Saturday morning were involved two speakers:
- Law Professor Balázs Schanda, of Catholic University of Budapest (Hungary), presented the human person as “pre-political” foundation of human rights. Unexpected aspects of the life of the human person become uncertain because the notion of human rights is more and more detached from its fundaments and human rights become controversial. The question of dignity, for instance: even if dignity is recognized as inviolable, new rights are derived from dignity such as self-determination. Some of the current controversial discussion such as on abortion, euthanasia and even the question of the independence of a State are all raised by this lack of clarity. All of these new rights have an unforeseeable price and “the first victims are competing rights like freedom of expression and the freedom of religion”. Concerning the fundaments of our social coexistence, he suggests a new emphasis on natural law. In many European countries we witness legal changes that are more liberal than the social consensus. We need to rebuild this social consensus with an original presence, going back to the most essential issues which “are determined in and by the family” and this needs “convinced testimony, radical proposals and a brave dialogue”.
- Mrs. Breda O'Brien, columnist at The Irish Times (Ireland) and mother, considered the marriage and family as a school of belonging and participation in the common good. She emphasized the differences of marriage understanding by the Church and the society, and the ignorance of the reasons for this understanding of the other party in both cases. In modern culture, marriage is very much an adult-centred vision, whereas the church has always emphasized both the loving commitment of the adults and care for the children who are seen as central to marriage. The church also considers the family a basic building block of society. Even though various forms of families co-exist nowadays, there is statistical evidence to associate growing up in single-parent families and stepfamilies with greater risk of dropping out of school, of leaving home early, of poorer health, of low skills, and of low pay. Finally she called for a theology of marriage that is firmly based in the lived reality of marriage, and this is most likely to come from those who are married.
Christ is the source of Hope for Europe
From final session there were some interesting contributions:
- Maria Durao, member of the association Apoio à Vida (Portugal). This group works with women and families unemployed. We should exploit the value of work that not only brings money but also a social status and contributes to positive self-image. It should be stressed the work as a collaboration in the work of God. She considers that there is an educational urgency because there is a mismatch between the preparation of young people and social reality. The heart of the Social Doctrine of the Church is the responsible freedom but if the Doctrine is a set of rules, the responsible freedom can’t function because responsible freedom should not be an end in itself. The person needs the freedom for something, for reaching the infinite, God. Freedom can’t be something that the State gives us; freedom is played within each of us. The contribution we can make is the Christian social doctrine of the Church to enter the reality and for this purpose, a personal conversion is needed being true Christian witnesses.
- Msgr. Crepaldi, president of the CCEE Commission of Caritas in veritate, notes that a common awareness of the role of the church has appeared and it enriches the cultural role of Europe. Christian humanism has the strength to harmonize, to consolidate and to promote the goodness and the newness. Europe must be careful in the promoting of solidarity to overcome the culture of discarding. He considers the problem of youth work important because "work is the fundamental key to the social question" (Saint John Paul II). There is also a need for Europe to promote just and true peace. We can’t be indifferent to war and conflict and the only tool to combat it is the political dialogue. The service that Christian offers to society sometimes suffers significant resistance such as the recognizing of Jesus, but Christian follows with a commitment to love and to promote the realization of human, social and cultural development. He calls to offer this service with simplicity, consistency and kindness because we have to provide a comprehensive and caring human vision. "The church works for the whole man and all men" (Paul VI).
Towards a Europe of greater fraternity and solidarity
This was the title of the final statement. In it the bishops of Europe underlined that this continent "is a community of life and destiny". The church in Europe is concerned about the drift of the project of European integration, marked by disaffection and the forgetting of 60 years of peace and prosperity that the unification has brought. As an antidote, it is proposed to strengthen the social dimension of Europe, first giving testimony of a personal commitment. Facing the social crisis, Christians have all the tools at their disposal to fashion a Europe of greater fraternity and solidarity that puts the people at the heart of its project.
Summary of Technical Secretariat from Justice and Peace of Spain