Solidarity – The Challenge for Europe

The last shall be first, so the final message shall be first.

The final message to European citizens from the Catholic Social Days for Europe was that ‘Solidarity is our future’.

‘To achieve these goals we must make the balances of the States and the EU adapt. Those who share such prospects must commit themselves to such accomplishment and take on the necessary political responsibilities at their respective levels. As Christians, the call to the full development of people and populations is a calling that comes before us and constitutes us. Europe needs properly-formed men and women who have their arms open to receive their neighbours in the name of Jesus Christ and build together relations and institutions of solidarity, at the service of the men of our time, keeping the future generations in mind. We also want to keep talking and working with men and women of different beliefs in the pursuit of the common good’.

The conference for Catholics from across Europe (not only EU), organised by the EU Bishops, was the First Catholic Social Days for Europe held in Gdansk 8th – 11th October 2009 on the theme of solidarity between people, nations and states. Gdansk was purposely chosen as the first venue because of the symbolism as the cradle of Solidarnosc. The principle of solidarity grounded in the respect for human dignity and freedom is at the core of Catholic social teaching. This gathering provided an opportunity to consider the challenges which solidarity in Europe faces especially during the current global economic crisis. It was also intended to inspire us to engage more deeply in building our common home which is the EU.

An active example of this was the choice of co-organisers; the European Solidarity Centre in Poland which preserves the heritage of the Solidarity movement and is a centre of cooperation and integration; and Renovabis from Germany which is the solidarity initiative of German Catholics with people in Central, East and South-east Europe supporting more than 16,000 projects.

The timing of the gathering was also significant. Eighty years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 the world finds itself again in the midst of a severe economic and financial crisis with the potential for dangerous political and social consequences. In 1939 the opening shots of WW2 were fired on Gdansk. In 1979 Pope John Paul’s visit to his homeland gave rise to the creation of Solidarnosc leading eventually in 1989 to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The welcoming message from the Auxiliary Bishop of Warsaw [Piotr Jarecki] explained that the principle of solidarity was chosen as the main theme as it is the pillar of Church social teaching and one of the fundamental principles of the European project. The opening ceremony led by the Archbishop of Gdansk [Slawoj Leszek] and the Bishop of Rotterdam [Adrinus van Luyn] set out the basis of the deliberations for the gathering. Solidarity is indivisible without any exclusion or exception and includes all human beings including those not yet born to those who are at the end of their life. It includes our contemporaries and the generations yet to come, includes residents and migrants, all countries large and small. It demands that the weakest are protected and the traditional family is defended and supported. Solidarity must not be limited to solidarity within Europe and with the present. These are the challenges before us.

The keynote address by the Archbishop of Dublin [Diarmuid Martin] dealt with the concept and reality of solidarity in the EU. The initial support of the Catholic Church had become more qualified over the years and critical remarks often accompanied positive evaluations. The Church regretted the omission of any reference to God in the European Constitution and continues to believe that ‘solidarity is the soul of Europe’. Technology has replaced ideology. Freedom and solidarity is participation. Economic growth and solidarity is reprocity. Sharing becomes a reality and the economy must serve the common good.

The Social Days were organised into different sections follow the structure in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

The human person and its rights- vector and destination of solidarity – noting the threat to the right to life from the moment of conception and its termination;

Europe’s families – the vital cells of society need Europe’s solidarity – noting the decreasing numbers of families and their lack of faith in the future;

European socio-economic model – work, poverty, social protection and economic regulation – noting that the EU would commit to a social market economy;

Founded on solidarity – the EU a political community and its necessary foundation on solidarity – noting the prospects following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty;

The global common good – and Europe’s responsibility for the world and future generations – noting that it is no longer an abstract concept and concrete initiatives are required.

The quality of speakers was very high, mostly comprised of lay Catholics, who are academics and politicians, current and ex MEPs, presidents of the EU institutions, heads of state and government. They were very clear in identifying the faults present in the institutions but also identified that much depended on the quality of the people involved. The danger of becoming too dependent on institutions was a threat but the quality of its citizens was an opportunity, especially if their ‘kindness’ was utilised. Good people delivered good results. More than one speaker mentioned that the principle of solidarity could not be discussed without making reference to the principle of subsidiarity, as they are the two sides of the same coin.

During the period of the conference the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, signed the Lisbon Treaty with much pomp and ceremony in Warsaw. In his speech he gave a positive view of the future but made two observations. The enlargement of the EU must continue further to the East and the Balkans and specifically to Georgia. Also, that he viewed the EU as a union of sovereign states.

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