The passion to ‘rekindle’ Christian values

The passion to ‘rekindle’ Christian values

We share here the testimony of Gerhard Pross, moderator of Together for Europe, who was invited to Thessaloniki (Greece) to sign a joint declaration by Christians of different Churches, in view of the upcoming European elections in June 2024.

On 15 May 2024, Declaration ‘Europe, Be Yourself!’>> was signed. I had the honour to sign it together with the President of the CEC [1], Archbishop Nikitas, the President of COMECE [2], Bishop Mariano Crociata and the Secretary General of the I.A.O. [3], Maximos Charakopoulos

It was quite unusual for us, as a network of Movements, to be represented at this level; but it was the Orthodox parliamentarians who attached great importance to our voice, because they knew that we were making an active contribution to the Christian roots of Europe.

In my brief greeting at the signing ceremony, I was able to refer to the conversation between the then President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi and Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement. On that occasion, Prodi asked Chiara Lubich how he could do Christian politics if Christians themselves do not raise their voices. Chiara then motivated us to plan an event, which was then held in May 2004, with the theme ‘Together for Europe’ and which impressively showed how much the Christian Movements contribute to our society with their commitment.

The signing was the prelude to a two-day ‘International Political Conference’ in Thessaloniki, with the aim of expressing Christian values in Europe. Numerous representatives of the mentioned Churches, politicians from European countries, university professors from Thessaloniki and other experts spoke in numerous plenary sessions. Sometimes there were controversial positions, with heated debates on the difference between Christian and European values, why the EU Future Document does not mention Churches and faith at all, and how to deal with increasing secularisation. On the other hand, very clear and encouraging Christian positions have emerged, for example from the Albanian Minister of Culture.

Our ‘7 YESes’ >>, which I was able to introduce in the first round of talks, resonated positively on several occasions. Many people eagerly asked what Together for Europe was all about, knowing nothing about it, and showed that they were interested. Numerous contacts were established. The conference raised awareness of the need to ensure that Christian values (and the Christian faith) are not removed from the EU consciousness. On the last day, one participant summed up the main problem as follows: ‘We Christians are not heard, because we are not united and therefore do not speak with one voice.’

We should raise our voices more courageously and defend our values more clearly, without imposing them on others – this is what I stated there, this is my deep conviction.

Thessaloniki, Pentecost 2024

Gerhard Pross

[1] CEC = Conference of European Churches. The CEC is a community of some 114 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Vetero-Catholic Churches from all European countries.

[2] COMECE = Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences [cattoliche] of the European Union.

[3] Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy

Self-awareness, serving the common good

Self-awareness, serving the common good

In Rome, at the event organised for Europe Day, I meet Aldo Bernabei, who has long been committed in the political world to create opportunities for young Europeans to meet, engage socially and work together. On this occasion, he tells me about a recent European Union Project: the European Solidarity Corps.

It is an EU-funded project, approved in 2018, for young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30, with the aim of developing young people’s sense of European citizenship through a period of voluntary work. It must be offered in at least three different European countries and include a prior training course.

It is intended to offer young people the opportunity to engage in programmes aimed at the common good. Within their own countries, national associations or agencies propose the funding of projects aimed at social initiatives, helping people in poverty, also in non-European countries, or undertaking cultural activities, e.g. on the identity of their own country. These work assignments give European-level credits that can be used for entry into the labour market.

It is hoped that ‘national civil services’ will be established throughout Europe, so that in the future there will be a civil service at European level and that volunteer status will be mutually recognised by all countries. To this end, an appeal was formulated>>, addressed in particular to MEPs, for their support of the Programme ‘European Solidarity Corps’ in view of a Europe of solidarity, active citizenship and peace.

by Diego Goller

For more information on the project, see the dedicated page on the EU website>>

Poto Canva / Photo Aldo Bernabei: Diego Goller

Having coffee together!

Having coffee together!

On the theme ‘Seeking peace together and what is best for the city’ (cf. Jer 29:7), some 30 Christians committed to Together for Europe (TfE) met on Tuesday 16 April 2024 in the parish hall of St Paul’s in Innsbruck, to take a shared look at the city of Innsbruck and the region of Tyrol with reference to this motto.

They were joined by Thomas Römer (YMCA) and Michael Guttenberger (Vineyard), who had come from Munich.

Thomas Römer began by inviting the participants to introduce themselves according to their membership of a Church, Community or group: Schönstatt Movement, Lumen Christi Tirol, Focolare Movement, Sant’Egidio, ENC (European Network of Communities), Free Christian Community.

The speakers realised, with good intuition, that there was still a good ‘room for progress’ in the relationship between the groups present, and asked each movement to briefly expound on their characteristics. On the basis of this, Thomas Römer emphasised the essentials of each one, thus enabling a deeper mutual understanding and greater appreciation of the different charisms. In this process, carefully accompanied by the two long-standing ‘fighters’ of Together for Europe, all present experienced and enhanced gratitude to God for the different gifts and charisms, which appeared in all their evidence. The joy of fraternity was tangible among all.

Reviewing the history of TfE, Römer emphasised the decisive contribution of the Chiara Lubich’s charism of unity.

In the course of the dialogue, several participants asked how the goal of ‘Together’ (for Innsbruck, for Tyrol, for Europe) could be carried further. One of the answers was surprising in its apparent banality: ‘Having coffee together!’. By this, Thomas Römer meant meeting without ulterior motives, with the sole desire to get to know each other better, to appreciate diversity as a whole and to enjoy it. Other points were explained in a PowerPoint.

At the end of the official part, much gratitude was shown to the two speakers, accompanied by refreshments with snacks and drinks, which allowed for further conversations and an even deeper getting to know each other.

by Gusti Oggenfuss, TfE Innsbruck

Photo: Armin Inglin, Anna Maria Gasser-Renzler


Toward the future with confidence

Toward the future with confidence

From 11 to 13 April 2024, the European Steering Committee of Together for Europe (TfE) met for its annual retreat in Vallendar, the Schönstatt Centre. 21 members from seven Movements represented on the Steering Committee took part. Among them were: Father Alexandre Awi Mello, Superior General of the Schönstatt Fathers and President of the General Presidium of the International Schönstatt Institution, and Jesús Moran, Co-President of the Focolare Movement, who also attended on behalf of the President, Margaret Karram. The purpose of the retreat was to facilitate and prepare the generational change, as well as to focus on TfE ‘s vision and formulate concrete tasks for the coming years.

TfE is an ecumenical network with a Steering Committee that is at the service of the various Movements and Communities. The interaction of charisms requires constant listening to the voice of God: “The score is written in heaven” (Chiara Lubich). The nature and mission of TfE are revealed above all through direct participation in the network’s meetings, prayer initiatives, conferences and other local and international initiatives.

Under the expert guidance of the specially appointed external moderator Dr Markus Ressl, and continuously listening to the Holy Spirit, the participants worked out the necessary steps for the near future. Moderator Gerhard Pross (YMCA Esslingen) and General Secretary Diego Goller (Focolare Movement) were given full confidence to continue their service over the next two years. The executive team of the Steering Committee, which previously consisted of four people from different communities, was expanded to include two younger people.

To facilitate the work of this team, working and project groups were formed to – among other things – intensify contacts with Eastern Europe, Orthodoxy, Church leaders, politicians and national TfE Teams. In terms of communication, a greater ‘visibility’ in the European public opinion arena is desired.

The voices and suggestions of younger participants are increasingly proving to be an important contribution to a forward-looking collaboration. According to one young participant from the YMCA in Munich, it is above all a ‘personal approach’. “You have to participate in person to understand what it is all about”. In the near future, a group will study the possibility of organising a large event for all Movements.

The meeting was characterised by a strong spiritual atmosphere. Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello (Schönstatt) stated: “It touches me deeply to see how God is working in this network. Here we are writing ‘holy history in a holy place’ “. And Jesùs Moran (Focolare Movement):“Charisms are gifts from God to the Churches. TfE allows Europe to see the unity of charisms. There is great potential in this. We must therefore never lose sight of today’s humanity, because we can always give hope to the world thanks to this charismatic force“.

The annual meeting of the Friends of TfE will take place from 31 October to 2 November 2024 in Graz/Seggau under the title ‘Called to Hope’, in close cooperation with the Austrian National Team and with the active participation of the younger generation.

Beatriz Lauenroth

DialogUE and the ecology of relationships

DialogUE and the ecology of relationships

A few months ago a veteran of Together for Europe asked me if our network has any influence on the life of the Continent. The courage and clarity of the question surprised me, but behind the words I sensed the real question: “Does my – our – work have a purpose?

After its beginnings, in the message of the first manifestation in Stuttgart in 2004, Together for Europe placed itself in today’s world, in history, declaring its identity for fraternity. A few years later, in 2007 – also in Stuttgart – the so-called 7 YESES were formulated, outlining the concrete programme of action. In one of these YESES it says: “Let us say YES to creation, by defending nature and the environment, gifts of God to be safeguarded with commitment that respects future generations.” The years went by andthe ecumenical network, mainly through the efforts of the various national committees, grew stronger on the Continent. Its structure was outlined with annual international meetings, with local events and, in recent years, from the westernmost part of Europe (Porto/Portugal) we reached the gateway to the East (Timisoara/Romania).

Together for Europe will be 25 years old this year. The question is very fair: while we thank God and mankind for the history of all these years, now, how do we move forward? Do we have and will we have influence on the life of the Continent? Does our work make sense and will it in the future?

The European Union came to our aid by inviting us to participate in a European call for proposals that “promotes citizens’ participation and involvement in the democratic life of the EU” in three fields in particular: the world of communication, the socio-political sphere and ecology. The online meeting on 2 March developed the latter. The 187 bookings and 110 listening places have enthused us and the answers to the questionnaires will help us to develop a KIT with concrete suggestions to the administration. Of course, the preparatory work for this meeting also required commitment, but the joy of seeing high-level experts in different fields, representing various Churches and countries, the encouraging testimonies, confirmed to us: a door to the future is opening here!

What kind of future? Generate as much as possible, with the cohesive force of fraternity, relationship spaces in all the fields of the 7 YESes. This is the ecology of relationships which goes beyond the protection of creation. In this endeavour, it may happen that beyond our common humanity, we discover many realities that bind us and can enhance our unity. On 2 March – in the ecological field – the Italian professor, the Greek theologian, the COMECE representative, the Swiss professor and the Irish doctor, the German expert and the EU official confirmed this, and the testimonies illustrated it. At the end, one participant asked: “How do such positive effects arise?” The answer was: through relationships.

Today, I would perhaps answer that veteran’s question with more conviction.

Ilona Toth

To find out more about the event click here>>

See also press release>>

Our common YES to the protection of creation

Our common YES to the protection of creation

The challenges for the protection of creation and an integral ecology are growing exponentially worldwide. On 2nd March 2024, the Together for Europe network has dedicated an entire day online to this topic. Professionals and activists from various Churches and Movements, from 9 European countries, spoke at the Seminar entitled: ‘Called to Unity – Towards an Ecology of Relationships’. An enthralling ‘journey’, in which the speakers in an atmosphere of increasing convergence presented their research and commitment to environmental protection, and then entered into dialogue with the many persons present in the ‘virtual hall’. Experiences already in place in many places and encouraging good practices, easily imitated, have highlighted the desire and commitment to respect and preserve creation for future generations. This unites us as Christians and easily connects us with others.

For our network it was time to deepen one of the ‘7 YESes’ with which we committed ourselves in 2007 at the big Stuttgart Manifestation. It states: “Let us say Yes to creation, by defending nature and the environment, gifts of God to be safeguarded with commitment that respects future generations.”

The inputs of this rich meeting were very interesting and informative. As an example, we quote two sentences from the contribution of Dr Stefania Papa[1]she emphasised “the network of complex and interdependent relationships between every living being and every element of nature, which, together, sustain life itself. These relationships are not unidirectional, but characterised by mutual exchanges of energy, matter and information”. While this creates harmony, there is also conflict, disruption. And it is precisely “this diversity of relationships, including both conflict and cooperation, that is fundamental to the functioning of ecosystems and to the continuous evolution of life on Earth, which is continually subject to new challenges”.

We are grateful to the speakers who allowed us to make their contributions available. You can download them at the bottom of this page.

During the Workshop, which was part of an EU-supported project, DialogUE, the European Grean Deal document was presented; this is an ambitious project in which the EU has developed some of the strictest environmental standards in the world. The contents of the Webinar and the answers of the participants to the questionnaires concerning this event will help to elaborate a KIT with concrete suggestions to the European Union. It will be delivered on 16th October 2024 to the European Institutions in Brussels, together with the results of the previous workshops on communication and social policies, held in 2023 and co-funded like the latter by the European Union.

The Team of the Secretariat of Together for Europe

Programme for Participants 2024 03 02 EN

Andre Galli – Green Fish, experience of a Christian ecological NGO 2024 03 02 EN

Catherine Devitt – Education for Faith-Consistent Investing, Experience FaithInvest 2024 03 02 EN

Gerhard Pross – Ecology of the heart 2024 03 02E EN

Jean Marc Ziade – Experience of an ‘Sustainable Hub’ 2024 03 02 EN

Lorna Gold – Commitment of Christian Churches in Europe to Care of Creation 2024 03 02 EN

Nicola Asproulis – Cosmic Personhood, from imago Dei to Imago mundi 2024 03 02 EN

Philip McDonagh – Considerations Article 17 TFEU and Green Deal 2024 03 02

Stefania Papa – Relationality in nature 2024 03 02 EN

See also the press release>>

[1] Associate Professor of Ecology, Dept. of Environmental, Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technologies, University of Campania ‘Luigi Vanvitelli’, Italy