The city of Timisoara, Romania, recently hosted the annual meeting of Together for Europe (TfE) on the theme “Called to Unity.” This meeting brought together 51 movements representing more than 300 Christian realities and communities within TfE’s vast network. The participants came from 29 countries: Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Reformed, Anglicans and members of free churches.
Creating living spaces in the cracks
In the complex sociopolitical context that Europe is currently experiencing, leaders of Together for Europe (TfE) gathered from November 16-18, 2023 in Timisoara, Romania, to address an important question, “What is the role of christian communities in Europe today?” This question has gained relevance in the face of global issues such as various ongoing conflicts, migration dynamics, and the climate crisis.
Herbert Lauenroth, historian and member of TfE’s Steering Committee, emphasized the crisis affecting all Churches and highlighted the weight of the moment: “Where is Europe today, Together for Europe? What kind of Europe, what kind of ‘Togetherness’ are we moving toward?” Against a backdrop of growing uncertainty, participants discussed what “Together for Europe” means, trying to discern the direction and future prospects.
From the first sessions, it was evident that the choice of Timisoara as the venue for the meeting added an extra layer of significance. The European Capital of Culture 2023 is a testimony to the harmonious coexistence of different christian denominations, where diverse communities meet and thrive in unity.
Gerhard Proß, TfE moderator, offered a perspective from the christian faith: “God creates space in the cracks,” he said, “Jesus himself entered the deepest of cracks in this world.” He went on to explain that the image of Christ, with his arms outstretched between heaven and earth, symbolizes a deep entrance into the cracks between God and humanity, between individuals, groups, denominations and nations. Jesus went down into the deepest: “There he created a space of life.”
Words that resonated deeply, provoking reflections on how, in the face of contemporary challenges, Christian communities can create spaces of life in the midst of division, tension and uncertainty.
The attendees participated in dialogue sessions, engaged together in intellectual discourse, experiential workshops and prayer times. Six workshops explored topics such as social integration, youth perspectives, ethics and non-violence, promoting a deeper understanding of diversity within the Christian community.
One highlight was a visit to the Orthodox Cathedral Museum, followed by Vespers in the city’s Orthodox Cathedral, attended by dignitaries and religious leaders from the different churches present. These moments of common prayer fostered a harmonious atmosphere in which unity and diversity coexisted.
Plenary talks and activities were punctuated by music and prayer, creating a thread throughout the conference. During one of their songs, the Ecumenical Youth Choir invited everyone to embrace different ways of praying, “We know that we all pray in our own way. Let us open ourselves to experience each other’s prayer during these days in Timisoara.” Particularly powerful was the moment of prayer for peace in which conflicts around the world were named, with a focus on Ukraine and the Middle East. All participants
pledged their commitment to unity, making a pact of mutual love. A moment that was meant to symbolize the cornerstone on which a fraternal Europe is founded.
Linking values to policies
As part of the EU-funded DialogUE project, the annual TfE-meeting also addressed issues aimed at developing advice and recommendations for EU social policies. Professor Philip McDonagh, a former Irish diplomat and director of Dublin University’s “Center for Religion, Human Values and International Relations,” stressed the importance of Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This article promotes open and transparent dialogue on major social issues facing Europe through high-level meetings and seminars for dialogue and work between european institutions and Churches, as well as non-denominational and philosophical organizations.
The professor emphasized the contribution of Churches in public debate, drawing on their philosophical foundations, values of compassion, care, solidarity, and respect for pluralism. He hoped that Churches would work to bridge the gap between high-level values and everyday policies, offering a much-needed perspective on issues such as peace, inclusion, and integration. Calling for a multilateral approach, he stressed the need for Europe to be perceived positively by the global community and highlighted the responsibility to consider the perspectives of the Global South.
Hope in unity
Margaret Karram, president of the Focolare Movement, was present along with Co-President Jesús Morán and spoke, offering words of hope: “I would like to have with all of you this conviction: everything is possible!” Her words encouraged an optimistic outlook, the recognition of shared humanity, and the creation of networks of fraternity. Karram encouraged the Together for Europe network to embrace Gospel-born charisms, engage in dialogue and open spaces to pursue tangible responses to contemporary challenges.
Bishop József-Csaba Pál of Timisoara expressed gratitude for these days: “A small seed of this fraternity, unity, and love has been sown in us, in our Churches, but also in society. The Together for Europe network is one of those wonderful initiatives where God has allowed good things to grow over the years. Let us continue to work together with all people of good will!”
Looking ahead, it was announced that the next annual meeting of Together for Europe will be held in Graz-Seggau, Austria, from October 31 to November 2, 2024.
Ana Clara Giovani, www.focolare.org
The eccumenical network Together for Europe in Timisoara
„Europe lives in Timisoara” – So reads the invitation to the leaders of Movements and Communities of various Churches, who are meeting in the Romanian city this year. Timisoara, European Cultural Capital 2023, already tells many stories of ‘togetherness’: indeed, here different cultures meet in faith and life.
The event aims to highlight the ecumenical network’s call to unity through speeches and testimonies at the local and European level.
Six workshops will offer the opportunity to come into lively contact with the realities of the city: Orthodox spirituality, social hot spots, East-West relations, youth engagement, steps on the road to peace are some of the topics. Let us be guarantors of a Europe that lives from its Christian roots.
Timisoara is a place of hope. The two days are addressed to the current and future leadership of Movements and Communities, who wish to make a sign of hope:
- Together, rather than against each other!
- East and West come together!
- Unity is possible!
As Communities and Movements we are ready to live our charism of unity in a new way and to “enter again into the rifts” (Ez 22:30) for Europe, the Churches and society. We are looking forward to seeing you!
The Together for Europe Secretariat
Flyer with register link>>
Interview with Herbert Lauenroth (1) ahead of the next meeting in Timisoara
Where do you see the main values of Together for Europe (TfE)?
Based on common Christian roots, TfE has made its own the vision of a Europe of solidarity, peace, reconciliation, justice and fraternity. TfE wants to re-propose the Christian ethos (with reference to Jn 15:12: This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you) in the light of a ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ (in the words of the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman), which seems to be the indispensable basis for a communication capable of overcoming the current tendencies of increasing polarisation and fragmentation. It is in acquiring a “culture of listening”, that very promising avenues for dialogue and for an experience of reciprocity are opened up, thus coping with the media pathologies of a so-called “post-factual” (with their notoriety, such as disinformation, denunciation, “hate speech”, dissemination of “fake news”, etc.).
Does this create greater solidarity?
I think so. Because solidarity is born in the light of the Christian experience, of its vision of a “universal brotherhood”, which brings us out of our respective “echo chambers” or “bubbles”, to open up to the (discursive) spaces of an “egaliberté” or “egalberty” (according to the neologism of French philosopher Etienne Balibar). These spaces resonate with what Gal 3:28 states: there is no longer Jew nor Greek; there is no longer slave nor free; there is no longer man nor woman. Being ‘Christian’ therefore means being a ‘citizen’. Democracy, as a secular project, needs very precise presuppositions, namely the reference to the transcendent, to the ‘religious’ sphere (it is enough to remember the emblematic meeting in this regard between Card. Joseph Ratzinger and the renowned German representative of so-called post-metaphysical thought, Jürgen Habermas, in 2004).
And how can these values be realised?
There have been many occasions in the past. Most recently, TfE participated in the Ecumenical Youth Festival in Timisoara/Romania, to promote dialogue between young people of various Churches.
On 5 May 2023, we offered a workshop on the theme of citizenship and the transformation of cities, starting from the passage of scripture ‘Seek the Good/the Shalôm of the City’ (Jer. 29:7) and a text – endowed with an unprecedented prophetic pragmatism – by Chiara Lubich: ‘One city is not enough’. Approximately 100 young Catholics, Orthodox and members of other Christian churches participated. The workshop was then further divided into various thematic groups, of which ‘The Art of Listening’, ‘Christians=citizens’ and ‘Ideas for a film/storyboard about my city’ were the most popular. On the part of the young people (16 to 28 age bracket), both the practice of ‘story-telling’ and a psycho-spiritual approach to group dynamics were appreciated, as well as the enhancement of the aesthetic side (in addition to the diaconic or social side).
From 16 to 18 November 2023 there will be the annual meeting of the ‘Friends of Together for Europe‘ also in Timisoara. Why?
For the year 2023, Eleusis (Greece), Veszprém (Hungary) and Timişoara (Romania) won the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’. On this occasion, Catholic Bishop Pál József Csaba of Timişoara invited to his city the annual meeting of the Friends of Together for Europe. The TfE Steering Committee accepted the invitation and included it in its programme.
On an annual basis, the meeting of the ‘Friends of TfE‘ takes place in Eastern and Western European countries (e.g. Prague, Timisoara and Porto) with the aim of creating the basis for a differentiated and fruitful dialogue. It is about fostering an attitude that creates the conditions for this very dialogue. The aim is to learn more deeply the ‘Art-of-Listening’, the readiness to mutually ‘listen’, which is the only way that can lead to a solid and sustainable knowledge of the other’s culture.
For the Friends’ meeting in November, among other things, we would like to propose workshops that take up and discern in depth the theme “Seek the Good/the Shalôm of the City” on a larger scale.
(1) Herbert Lauenroth, historian, is a member of the Steering Committee of Together for Europe and has accompanied the development of the international network since its inception.
Creating spaces for relationships and dialogue in Europe: to bear witness to reciprocity between nations and to the dynamism of love, rooted in the Gospel. We plan our journey toward “Called to unity”, our November 2023 appointment in Timisoara (Romania).
Europe seen and ‘lived’ today from the perspective of Christian communities; the challenge of the many polarisations, the scourge of war at the heart of the continent. Many topics were discussed at the two-day meeting of the Steering Committee of Together for Europe (TfE) which was held in Munich from 22 to 24 March.
Faced with Europe’s enormous and manifold cultural, social and political challenges, the Christian communities of TfE start afresh from the principles of reciprocity and dialogue, as Herbert Lauenroth of the Steering Committee emphasised when he outlined what path to tread in this ‘post-secular’ era: “(…) we must enter the frontier spaces, together; witnessing Christ in our midst, in the midst of the world”. He went on to describe the need in Europe for places where conflict is welcomed as a constructive and even a unifying part, where the encounter between people and with God takes place; where that reciprocity that does not abolish differences, but redeems them, can be found.
“Called to unity”: toward Timisoara 2023
This year Timisoara (Romania) is the European Capital of Culture, and the Roman Catholic bishop there, Bishop Josef-Csaba Pal, invited TfE to bring its testimony as bridge-builders between Christians of different Churches.
Work will now begin on the programme for the event. Margaret Karram, President of the Focolare Movement, proposed to make visible the ‘fragments of fraternity’ that are already in place in the city and make them come alive for the participants. A meeting, therefore, that highlights what the various groups, parishes and associations do for the city and for those who suffer most. “Today’s imperative is dialogue, encounter, ‘togetherness'”, concluded Margaret Karram. And Jésus Morán, Co-President of the Focolare Movement, stated: “In this way, the TfE event in Timisoara will sow seeds of hope, of brotherhood that is not only European but universal”.
Our next appointments
1 – 7 May 2023, Timisoara (Romania) – “Walking together in the light of Christ”, an ecumenical festival for young people (16 – 30 years old). Registrations are still open.
Info and booking: >>
To participate StartNow, the concert and workshop with the musical band Gen Verde: >>
16 – 18 November 2023, Timisoara (Romania) – “Called to unity -Together in Timisoara”, the annual appointment of the “Friends of Together for Europe”.
Stefania Tanesini and Beatriz Lauenroth
Photo: Stefania Tanesini, Cornelia K. Brand, Diego Goller
Preparing for 9th May, Europe Day with the “Our Father”
The itinerary is 9 days of prayer (a novena) to implore the Holy Spirit on our Continent.
Why a Novena? In the last four years we embarked on a six-week prayer journey to prepare for Europe Day on May 9th. However, for 2023, we had the idea of praying for nine days.
The oldest novena in Christianity is the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, when the apostles, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, received the Holy Spirit.
This year we would like to invite you to pray the novena together throughout Europe, for our Continent and for all the intentions of our network!
The novena was prepared together by Sr. Lioba Ruprecht (Schoenstatt) and Thomas Roemer (YMCA Munich).
Every day we will pray in particular for some European nations.
Download here the novena in English>>
Download here the novena in Ukrainian>>
Download here the novena in czech>>