“Christians for the construction of Europe”
An unambiguous theme for the 27th Colloquium of European Parishes (CEP), held in Mellieha (Malta) from 7 to 12 July 2013.
This year’s colloquium was attended by 125 people, both priests and laymen, who had travelled to Malta from 13 European countries to meet and discuss the topic “Christians for the construction of Europe. The courage of faith in today’s society”. At the end of the colloquium, the participants reiterated their readiness to continue to work towards the building of Europe, an ambition borne out of “a deep-rooted desire for reconciliation following the two great tragedies of the 20th century, namely the two world wars.”
Never heard of the Colloquium of European Parishes? Surely it must be a new organisation? Well actually, not at all! The Colloquium of European Parishes was established over 50 years ago. Indeed, the parishioners were a step ahead of their bishops, as the first European organisation for bishops was not set up until a few years later. The story of the Colloquium of European Parishes begins in 1961, just four years after the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community was signed, and one year before the Second Vatican Council opened. A number of visionaries were inspired to organise parish-level meetings with a Europe-wide focus where participants could share ideas on pastoral creativity and find brotherly support.
A number of priests of large parishes had started to ask themselves how parishes could improve their mutual support for one another across European borders. They wrote to numerous bishops with their concerns, and the only one to reply was Cardinal Franz König of Vienna. He then actively encouraged Father Francis Conan, a parish priest from Paris, to organise a meeting for parish priests with the aim of “sharing experiences and ideas in order to work together to build a community of European peoples”. Initially, only priests took part, 60 of them coming from 7 countries to attend the first conference in 1961. Later, other clerics also began to attend and, from 1973 onwards, an ever-growing number of laymen began joining in.
The list of cities that have hosted the Colloquia over the past 50 years is impressive: Lausanne, Vienna, Cologne, Barcelona, Turin, Strasbourg, Heerlen, Lisbon, Namur, Marseille, Assisi, Ludwigshafen, Tarragona, Seggau, Fátima, Leuven, Besançon, Prague, Udine, London, Girona, Fribourg, Erfurt, Porto, Mons and Nyíregyháza.
And the mission continues in 2013: the Colloquium of European Parishes continues to be a place where Christians from parishes and Christian communities across Europe can get together. Held every two years in a different European country, the colloquia give Christians the chance to meet and share their experiences on questions regarding the Church and society, which they tackle from the perspective of their own pastoral commitment. In this way, expressing it in their own voices, they make their contribution to the building of Europe. It was for this reason that the Colloquium of European Parishes approached the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, which led to the CEP being awarded INGO (international non-governmental organisation) participatory status.
Speaking at the conclusion to the 2013 CEP meeting, Professor Alphonse Borras, one of CEP’s permanent experts, noted that “over the course of this colloquium we have gained awareness of the many different ways of contributing to peaceful coexistence, not only in our respective countries and communities, but also at European level. Right from the start of the colloquium, we began examining the concept of citizenship and, more specifically, our ‘citizenship’ as Catholics in Europe today.” His comments could not have been more topical, given that 2013 has been designated the European Year of Citizens by the EU.
Professor Borras invited the participants to “consider how we could deepen our commitment with a view to making the world a better, kinder place to live. This means identifying which priorities pastoral care needs to focus on, all whilst continuing to safeguard their own local approaches by parishes across Europe.” The participants concluded that the European integration project required all individuals to be given respect, as well as protected from the constant threat of violence: currently that might be, for instance, being fearful of immigrants, or being worried about having to adopt a more frugal, or even austere, lifestyle.
In the present climate of unsettled economies right across Europe, parishes remain places where people can get together, help each other and be heard, both at the heart of Europe and in the farthest reaches of the continent. They constitute a human resource on which the EU Institutions may draw – a living resource that Europe’s bishops would benefit from rediscovering and encouraging.
Save the date:
The next Colloquium of European Parishes will be held in Lisieux (France) from 5 to 9 July 2015.
Translated from the original text in French