The most important fact about the Third European Ecumenical Assembly which met from September 5 – 9 in
Sibiu is Romania's European Capital of Culture for 2007 and proved to be a charming place, as well as providing lessons from a difficult history in which people of different languages and confessions have learned to live and work together, even to appreciate the gifts they variously bring to common life, in a way that many more of us in Europe still badly need to!
Many many speeches
The Assembly received many, many speeches. Three of them may deserve to stand out. His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, stressed ‘that we unreservedly promote and support every ecumenical theological dialogue, on equal terms, as something absolutely necessary.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, spoke with conviction about the fact that the European Union is by no means just a matter of economic or legal agreements between the member nations, but essentially ‘a community of values that takes shape in a diversity of cultures and mutually enriching traditions within the framework of an enlarged and open Europe that is capable of building bridges towards other world regions and of holding a dialogue with other cultures and religions.’ Gpakilè Félémou, a Roman Catholic biologist and member of the San Egidio Community, from Guinea in W. Africa, then spoke movingly to the Forum on Migration - one of nine in which members worked on specific areas - about how Africa has had so much inflicted on it by Europe that the two cannot be separated: ‘We can save ourselves, if together, and only if together. We do not see how Africa can save itself on its own, or save the world on its own; we do not see how Europe can save itself and abandon Africa, or how Africa can face its development challenges without Europe.’
The Message of the Assembly, prepared in a horribly rushed way, nonetheless brought out strongly, from the Forum on Migration, an impressive set of challenges: ‘As we meet Christ in our needy sisters and brothers (Matthew 25: 44-5) we ... commit ourselves to repent for the sin of exclusion; deepen our understanding of ‘otherness’; defend the dignity and rights of every human being, and ensure protection to those in need of it; call upon European states to stop illegal administrative detention of migrants (...) to uphold the value of family unity and combat trafficking in human beings and exploitation of trafficked persons.’
The Creation Forum
The Creation Forum was no less vivid in its awareness that 'we are irreversibly damaging the ecological systems on which life (all life) depends. Our life-styles are not simply a matter of personal choice - we are part of a culture that tempts us to seek identity and status through possessions and to rely on transport that puts carbon into the atmosphere.
We must bring pressure on our Governments and industrialists to re-orient their political and economic priorities, putting first the safeguarding of the Earth's life-supporting resources. Only radical alternatives can promise a happier future for the entire human race.'
Look up the website on www.eea3.org for texts and photos, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to ask more about it all.
Martin Conway is chair of the diocesan board for social responsibility