First days of work at the secretariat of the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) for French Dominican Father Olivier Poquillon, elected past March Secretary general of this body, that closely follows the work of EU institutions, by the bishops representing EU Countries. COMECE was first set up in 1980. It has grown both in geographic terms – following the expansion of the EU – as well as in terms of expertise, authoritativeness and visibility grown with the years and with the succession of the various presidents (the German Cardinal Reinhard Marx is the current President-in-office) and 4 Secretaries that occupied the post prior to Fr Poquillon.
International curriculum. Born in 1966 in Paris in a family of practising Catholics, Fr Poquillon has a curriculum that seems purposely designed for contemporary Europe. After his studies in international law he entered the novitiate of the Dominicans and was ordained priest in 2001, but he continued following his juridical passion combining his commitment in the Dominican order and in the various international institutions, first at the UN in Geneva, in 2013 in Strasbourg and today in Brussels. He thus explained the complementary nature of these various areas in an interview published in Europeinfos, COMECE online monthly magazine: “The legal mindset and theology are not ends in themselves, but are complementary tools in the service of the same mission: to put man, who was created in God’s image, back into the heart of public policy.” Among his assignments, he served as military chaplain in areas devastated by the war such as the Balkans, Africa and the Middle East. For a period of time he taught at the University of Mosul (Iraq). “This is not unusual for a Dominican”, pointed out Fr Poquillon in his new office in the COMECE headquarters of Square de Meeûs, a few steps away from the “European neighbourhood” in Brussels, where he took up his position on September 1st. “Exposure to armed conflict leaves no person unaffected”, he pointed out. But also in those situations it’s possible for people “to meet, starting with highly physical, often bloody encounters”, experiencing “the direct and indirect consequences of the decisions taken by people in more protected, violence-free locations”, he added.
An interdependent world. The Dominican Father experienced in first person in war zones that “whatever the ethnic, cultural or religious background, the level of education or lifestyles of the actors in a conflict, it is obvious that we all share the same anxieties, the same suffering and the same hopes”, and that when “blood flows out of an injured person, the colour of the blood is still red, whatever his nationality.” That bond is present in war zones and in the current migration crisis alike. “We are connected by a community of destiny”, “this basic interdependence goes beyond the short-term interests of individuals and societies” to the extent that sooner of later crisis in one nation ends up by being a crisis in other nations too.
Therefore for military men, for diplomats, for Statesmen, peace is the sole objective that is worth fighting for.
“A crisis in trust”. Nonetheless Father Poquillon has a positive outlook. In his opinion crisis situations are still good moments for us to ponder some probing questions. This is especially true for Europe today faced with the question: “What do we want to do together on this continent?” It’s a question that the COMECE Secretary focuses on repeatedly as it is critical to addressing the “crisis in confidence” involving institutions as a whole, and the European institutions in particular. In this respect “the Church founded on faith, meaning trust”, has the fundamental capacity shown after the recent attacks in Europe, namely: “enabling people to regain trust and to renew their choice to live together.” At political level the Churches “are able to assist public policymakers in their search for the best way of serving their fellow citizens.” In Poquillon’s opinion the credibility of our institutions rests on that plane.
Putting the human person at the centre. Another important term for Oliver Poquillon, extending his glance beyond EU borders, is dialogue. “The Europe of 28” would have everything to gain from extending this form of constructive dialogue to the 165 other member States of the UN.” The new COMECE Secretary General is determined: “Europe can pride itself of having guaranteed decades of peace to her populations. But if she really wishes to break her soulless image of being a ‘moneybags’ and ‘preacher, she absolutely must provide better explanations of what she is doing and take the risk of forming new partnerships that are fairer to all parties.” This will occur only by “putting the human person back at the heart of public policy.” The priorities set by Fr Poquillon in his ecclesial commitment for the strengthening of the common good in Europe are the following: “recreating social links, sharing her knowledge of the terrain, suggesting new directions and building bridges with people of good will.”