By Lydia O'Kane
Political and religious leaders have gathered in the Vatican this weekend to participate in an dialogue on Europe.
The three day event entitled “Rethinking Europe” has been organised by COMECE, the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community.
Apart from the discussion, there is also a papal audience on Saturday afternoon with the Holy Father, while on Sunday 29th participants will attend Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.
One of the participants attending the meeting is the first Vice President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, MEP, whose role also includes responsibility for Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, which provides for the first time, a legal basis for an open, transparent and regular dialogue between the EU institutions and churches, religious associations, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations.
Before being received in private audience with Pope Francis on Saturday, Mairead McGuinness spoke to Lydia O’Kane about the meeting and the importance of engaging with religious communities.
Europe and the Local Church
“It’s been very enlightening to hear different views from Christians in Europe and I think from the point of view of the Catholic Church to organise this, I think was absolutely fantastic; the challenge is to bring this conversation back to the parishes and to give people ownership of the conversation and to some extent to give them ownership of Europe again, because there is a sense in which people feel a bit disconnected perhaps, or maybe we think they feel disconnected and I’d like to understand if that is the case and the only way we will reconnect with them is to have this conversation back in our parishes…”
Asked about her Article 17 role, the Vice President said, “my role with responsibility for article 17 is to have dialogue with religious communities, directly on one to one with each Church and non-confessional organisations; part of that is interreligious but not mainly, it is really so that the religious communities feel they have an input into policy… I think that engagement we’ve had has been very fruitful,” she said.
Ms McGuinness also noted that people in everyday life have concerns “which are more than just economy and growth rates. They have concerns about spiritual issues, about caring, about the soul and I think it’s good for us sometimes to pull back from the hard economics which we’ve been going through because of the economic crisis…
The COMECE “Rethinking Europe” concludes on Sunday 29th October.