The plenary meeting of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community), held in Brussels October 26-28, addressed, as usual, a set of issues with a continental scope. But this time the bishops focused on three main themes: widespread poverty and the ways to address it; the knot of the Brexit vote; the future of European integration. We retraced the reflections and the indications that emerged in the plenary with Mons. Gianni Ambrosio, bishop of Piacenza-Bobbio, COMECE vice-president.
Monsignor Ambrosio, let’s start with the first topic: what are most relevant themes emerged in the debate with experts and EU officials on the plight of poverty in the old Continent? The economic crisis has left deep marks in the families: what is the role of the Church in support of the indigent and of the excluded social brackets? The main theme of the COMECE assembly was poverty in Europe. Perhaps it would be best to say: the bishops put at the centre of their reflection men and women in our continent living in conditions of poverty or who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Figures showed a slow decrease in the number of people living in conditions of serious poverty, but the number of those at poverty-risk are rapidly growing. Some 120 million European citizens are experiencing this situation (low income, social and economic difficulties, precarious employment).
The bishops highlighted a form of poverty that escapes official statitics, namely, a condition of poverty in human relations that afflicts our continent.
Pope Francis’ appeal was to “to go to the peripheries” to give priority to those in need. Thus the plight of the poor was the theme of the assembly. We addressed this theme with Caritas Europe and with the volunteers of 5 Catholic organizations for support to the poor in Brussels. We also had an in-depth meeting with representatives of the EU Commission, notably their strategies for the uproot of poverty and social inequalities. The outcome of the days will be contained in forthcoming COMECE position paper with concrete proposals for European policies aimed at the uproot of poverty. The dignity of the human person is at stake, while EU institutions are called to be at the service of women and men in Europe, especially of the poor.
A solidarity-based Europe? Yes. This entails everyone’s contribution so that Europe may become an authentic solidarity-based community, overcoming egoisms and closures. The Church in Europe is called to express, share and spread her rich capital of mercy and fraternity.
It is necessary to make a concrete display of this solidarity also when facing the major question of immigrants and asylum-seekers
With proposals and accurate rules and rights for the granting of asylum, supported and implemented by all Member States.
Did you discuss the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU? Brexit is causing serious problems. Not only to the United Kingdom but also to Europe as a whole, for financial and economic reasons as well as in terms of Europe’s future. It should remembered that the United Kingdom is “in” Europe and it has always enjoyed strong relations “with” Europe. Those relations will continue, because history cannot be erased. The United Kingdom and the EU must continue enjoying open communication, exchanging views, dialoguing for the good of the peoples. In our capacities as bishops delegates of European countries, we will continue to have the presence and contribution of the bishops of England, Scotland and Ireland. Beyond the question of the UK’s membership to the EU, we wondered:
will European countries be able to recognize what they have in common, which is far more important than legitimate diversities? Will the desire for peace, cooperation and responsibility prevail?
The future of the EU is extremely uncertain, amidst surging populisms and nationalism, Brexit, growing divide between citizens and political institutions. There are also migratory pressures, political instability in the Middle East, terrorism… What is the analysis of COMECE? “The Catholic Church intends to give her contribution to help the EU overcome the manifold crises it faces today”, said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, COMECE president, in the opening address of the assembly.
The ongoing crisis is not only serious but also deeply existential in nature.
The EU and its institutions, all member countries, namely, all civil society of the “European common home” as a whole, need to reflect on the cultural and political progress of the Continent, the goals it intends to achieve and most importantly the basic values called to inspire the common journey. For this reason the contribution of the Church, coupled by the specific contribution of COMECE, is more important than ever, the delegate-bishops pointed out. COMECE will organize a high-level Congress in Rome in autumn 2017 on “Rethinking Europe”. The purpose of the meeting is to promote in-depth reflection on the future of the Community to recover the thrust and the enthusiasm that Pope Francis indicated to the members of the European Parliament and on the occasion of the conferral of the Charlemagne Prize. Before the major challenges of today the Church can and must contribute to “the rebirth of a worn Europe, which is still rich with energy and potential”, in view of “a a new European humanism, a relentless humanization process that requires memory, courage, sound and human utopia.”