The bishops of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) gathered in Brussels on April 14-16. They examined and discussed a wide range of critical blueprints, notably regarding negotiations on the revision of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, religious freedom as part of EU foreign policy target and non-discrimination policies.At a closer glace, the documents highlight the commitment of the bishops – with the support of experts and of a permanent Secretariat in Brussels – to nourish and enrich the European Union’s dialogue with the Churches and religious communities, as provided for in article 17 on the performance of EU activity. Indeed, the bishops have undertaken preparatory works with the purpose of elaborating – with all other Churches – a common stand on the dialogue’s implementation. The dialogue is already under way at concrete level. However a more systematic approach is needed to the light of the new disposition envisaged in the supreme EU law. The COMECE bishops held meetings with representatives of European institutions that presented them with five objectives on poverty and employment, research and education and climate, which are expected to become the crowning elements of the next “EU 2020 strategy” drawn up by the Heads of Government and State within the European Council chaired by Herman van Rompuy. During the COMECE meeting the head of the cabinet of the EU Commission President illustrated the Executive’s working program for the year 2010. The European bishops’ assembly clearly exemplified the relevance of the theses of French philosopher Marcel Gauchet on the binomial of religion and politics in modern democracies: “In the public arena, ‘even if the State does not identify the good, it cannot afford to be indifferent to moral and spiritual questions’, given that even the most prosaic collective decisions are bound to higher goals and that decisions regarding public life rarely lack ethical implications. From this perspective, the religious dimension acquires ‘public visibility’, taking its very own ‘place as the pre-eminent protagonist of communal decisions'” (Olivier Bobineau, Marcel Gauchet, Le religieux et le politique, Desclée de Brouwer, 2010). The COMECE’s activity is thus a service for the common good of the European Union, which is not superfluous but necessary. However, to complete the description of the role of the bishops in our modern society and to conclude the report of this plenary meeting, its conclusion ought to be referred to. Once the days’ agenda had been concluded, most bishops representing the European Union bishops’ conferences were unable to leave. While the meeting was under way, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused Europe’s airspace closure. The name of the Icelandic volcano is bound to be soon forgotten owing to its difficult pronunciation, but the fact that the volcanic ashes blocked air traffic for over 4 days will be hard to forget. The economic consequences for airline companies are of immense proportion, and we must sympathize with all those who were prevented from returning to their homes or leaving for their holidays. However, the fact that a volcano from distant Iceland has managed to slow down and bring the rapid pace of contemporary life to a halt is a healthy experience. Neither our sophisticated economy nor state-of-the-art technology, and not even our complex European political system, including the working programme of the European Commission, could amend the situation. The geo-physical constitutions of our planet simply took over. And even though we will continue debating our dependence from I.T. mathematical simulations, the fact that European populations are forgetting the constitutive reality of the planet is no less serious, as can be seen in many areas of the world. It reminds us of our fragile existence and of the unquestionable limits of our ability to prevent, govern and control everything. “What if we truly couldn’t live up to the task of representing our self-governing power?”, continues Marcel Gauchet. The bishops responded with serenity and prayer. The following days, they drove back home by car or took the train. Msgr. Nicolaos Foskolos, archbishop of Athens, COMECE member from Greece, retreated in the monastery of Chevtogne, “awaiting for all this to come to an end”, as he said. This gesture is a contribution as important as the documents attentively examined in the European debates on a more just and true lifestyle. Prayer counts!
Church - European Union dialogue