Schuman Encounters: a valuable opportunity to know ourselves better
The idea is rooted in the proven success of the Erasmus exchange programmes, which have enabled thousands of young Europeans enrolled in higher education to discover new horizons as part of their studies by undertaking a course of one semester in a different institution from their own, preferably in a foreign country. The European Union is resolutely committed to promoting these exchanges, whose benefits extend far beyond the academic. This is in line with the thinking of Robert Schuman, who said: “There is more to it that just breaking the barriers: co-operation must be organised, which presupposes a great number of personal contacts: exchanges and training courses, conferences and field trips, tours, exhibitions, young manuals and intellectual workers' meetings.” (extract from Pour L’Europe, 1st edition, 1963, p. 49).
There is still a good deal of tension, prejudice and lack of understanding today between the populations and leaders of the various member states of the Union, between North and South, between East and West. We have witnessed harmful words, simplistic attitudes of rejection. If we want to participate in a joint project that is as ambitious as the one that was initiated 60 years ago, if we believe in the imperative role of Europe in tomorrow’s world, we must know ourselves better, must have the opportunity to meet one another and appreciate each other’s differences. All this in addition to (re)discovering our cultural heritage and testing our fraternity beyond national borders.
The Church should in its own way play a role in these essential comings-together of people. Therefore this initiative, although admittedly modest in scale, at least to begin with, has been introduced with the intention is of organising annual weeks for meetings, dialogue and friendship. Christians should remember that they are fundamentally pilgrims: the programme in question invites them to leave their countries (cf. Genesis 12:1) for just a week. They will take to the road in order to gain experience of welcoming hospitality, such an important aspect of the life of the believer (cf. Hebrews 13:1-2).
It is therefore proposed that bishops and their teams should make known their wish to be involved in these exchanges. The project’s steering committee, based in Brussels, will then propose a kind of twinning between three dioceses, one from towards the east of Europe, another from the south and a third from the north: in summer each year, on dates to be mutually agreed, one diocese will receive representatives from the other two for five days. At the end of three years, an evaluation will be made to examine whether the initiative should be run again.
The host diocese will draw up a flexible programme of discovery through exchanges and visits: the religious aspect will go hand in hand with the cultural and societal aspects, not forgetting the all-essential opportunities for social interaction. The financial investment will be limited, but the project will be readily achieved provided the accommodation is kept simple, for example by enabling the visitors to stay with families in the parishes. The project is likely to start in summer 2019 with an initial exchange among dioceses.
The Encounters are intended as a response to ignorance and prejudice, offering their own contribution to securing peace and reconciliation between people of different European countries. The efforts are also in line with the cherished desires of the founding fathers of the European Community.
It should be noted that, while the Schuman Encounters project is initially aimed at Catholic dioceses, it is hope that it will eventually be possible to extend it to the dioceses of sister Churches.
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels, COMECE member bishop
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Translated from the original text in French