WCC panel discusses ideas on European identity

By agency reporter
April 27, 2016

What has contributed to the idea of a 'European identity'? And, within a broad-minded vision of secularism, how can churches and other religious communities contribute? In this context, what is the role of Switzerland?

A panel of religious leaders, policymakers and journalists met on 20 April 2016 at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva to discuss these questions and others. Thoughts were also fielded from the audience. The event was organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Focolare Movement, an international organisation that promotes the ideas of unity and universal brotherhood.

The Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC General Secretary, spoke about how the WCC’s pilgrimage of justice and peace links the work of churches with the roots of their faith. “We see the pilgrimage as an openness, a willingness to move”, he said.

Tveit recently returned from an ecumenical advocacy event in Washington, DC, where he met with Christians from a wide constituency of US churches to define racism in our time.

“Racism is tearing the United States apart”, he said, citing a conversation he had with Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and author of “America’s Original Sin,” a book about racism. Tveit then raised the question: “If you ask the same question of Europe – what is Europe’s original sin?”

Another panelist was Pasquale Ferrara,  a diplomat, a professor at the LUISS University, Rome and the Sophia University Institute, Loppiano. He spoke about what creates a sense of unity yet maintains diversity. “We need to cultivate a responsible vision of a future in which identities are imaginatively combined, in which they are not suppressed, but rather develop together, become richer, and work together for a more just, fairer world”, he said.

Humility is also a key characteristic that will enable us all to live together, added Erik Ackermann, a member of the Jewish community in Geneva. “Our beliefs should be logically presented, but with humility, and that humility should enable us all to live together”, he said. “If humans are made in the image of God, when I draw close to someone else, then I am inevitably drawing close to God.”

Europe is not only passing through a major political, economic, social and moral crisis and a crisis in security, but it is also having to confront the greatest migration crisis since the Second World War, said Gaelle Courtens, a journalist associated with the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy and the ‘nev-notizie evangeliche’ Press Agency. “That is an explosive mix that presents a serious threat to the structure of Europe itself”, said Courtens. “The rise of xenophobic, anti-Semitic and islamophobic movements of the extreme right clearly shows that.”

Marguerite Contat, former head of delegations at the International Committee of the Red Cross, and joint president of the Genevan Constituent Assembly, served as chair of the discussion, and attempted to summarise the reflections of the group on rethinking a European identity that nurtures life, innovation and creative imagination – and how religious life fits into that.

“We have discussed the question of religious integration”, she said. “I believe that, more than ever, religion or religious communities have a role to play, and they must use that role, not to claim that their faith is superior, but rather to share the magnificent riches that they have among the diversity of our populations.”

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* The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, by the end of 2012 the WCC had 345 member churches representing more than 500 million Christians from Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other traditions in over 110 countries. The WCC works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church.

* World Council of Churches http://www.oikoumene.org/en

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