"What do Churches and Religious Communities think of citizens´ and faithfuls´ expectations on the future of Europe"
The EPP Intercultural Dialogue with Churches and Religious Institutions on the Future of Europe, 9 December 2020
”What do Churches and Religious Communities think of citizens´ and faithfuls´ expectations on the future of Europe”
Dear friends, fellow citizens of Europe,
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about the roles of churches and religious communities and European citizens vis-à-vis the future of Europe. I am speaking on behalf of the Conference of the European Churches with a Nordic perspective.
Churches are an established and long-term dialogue partner for the European Union – including European Parliament. As the Conference will take place under involvement of European citizens, it is important to remember that churches in Europe represent through their members millions and millions of citizens throughout Europe. Churches are also deeply rooted in all EU Member States – from European and national to the local and regional level. That is why it is only natural that the expectations of the members of the churches vary from one corner of the continents to another – nut this also puts the churches in a natural position to act as bridge-builders and to restore trust between countries, regions and people throughout Europe.
The global community and Europe as part of is, is facing at the moment multiple major changes. When people are moving – not just within their own countries or regions but between the continents, when the climate is change and the biodiversity decreases, Covid-19 closes societies, people tend to seek simple explanations in order to cope with the rapid changes that create insecurity and fear. Simple explanations are fertile soil for polarization of societies, for fragmentation of communities, and for lack of solidarity. We are not just witnessing times of change but change of times, turn of an aeons. This is why we need every bridge builder, every peace maker and every community of hope and good will to plan and to build the future of Europe that is rooted in the values of human dignity, human rights, solidarity and democracy. It is our duty to encourage the faithful to stay firm with this approach.
If we look from the global perspective, we see that all the historical mainline churches have their roots in the European soil. Thus, Christianity has been influencing in shaping Europe during different phases and periods of history, be it the horrors of the Thirty Years War, or the success story of Nordic welfare societies.
The post-WWII times have been marked by strong cooperation between and among the churches in Europe. The Conference of the European Churches was born in 1956 to build bridges between churches and people in our continent divided at the time by the Iron Curtain. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Conference of European Churches has been supporting strongly the European integration process. The churches have been working closely together both with the European institutions and the actors of civil society to build more integrated, more democratic and more just Europe.
The particularity of churches in the European project has been to speak for, to clarify, and to stand for the European values. When we promote together undivided human rights, human dignity that belongs to all, democracy, justice, solidarity, peace, and the common good, we are actually promoting Christian values. For the churches these are not just values adopted from outside their lives or history, but values that are rooted deeply in the core of churches´ own faith and theology, that is these are values part of churches´ self-understanding.
But it is not just the Christian churches that play a crucial role in building the future of Europe that takes place under involvement of European citizens. More recently, cooperation between religious communities in Europe has become more and more important, as well as stronger. During the first two decades of this millennium, we have seen growing number of antisemitic and anti-islamic acts, acts of hatred and violence, taken place in Europe.
The religious communities in Europe need to condemn these appalling developments together. But condemning is not enough. We also need to offer an alternative, a visible way to show that the religious communities themselves are working against the current of hate and build trust and hope for joint future. This is why it is only good that the religious communities in Europe, representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities, have strengthened their cooperation. One of the very recent steps to do this is the formation of the Religions for Peace Europe, in process at the moment. This new interfaith body brings under one umbrella various separate European interfaith organizations and at the same time connects them the global network of Religions for Peace.
The rise of the hate crime in Europe tells us that our collective memory is dauntingly brief. this is why it also reminds us that our common values, such as human dignity, human rights and democracy should not be taken for granted. Instead, we need to build democracy actively and in an inclusive way, we need to stand for dignity of every person and for undivided human rights, and this needs to take place in due solidarity and cooperation. The Conference of European Churches together with its Christian and interfaith partners have a strong commitment and experience in building inclusive, hospitable and diverse communities. This is why their role in building the future of Europe is a crucial one.
Churches have an important message and value to add to the discussion about the future of Europe, especially regarding values. Thus, the voice of churches needs to be heard and churches actively involved in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Bishop Kaisamari Hintikka, Finland