This year's annual EU high-level meeting of religious leaders took place today, 30 May, at the Commission's headquarters in Brussels, under the motto 'Putting citizens at the heart of Europe in times of change'. The meeting was hosted by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, and co-chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and László Surján, Vice-President of the European Parliament.
The European Commission maintains an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and religious communities according to the Lisbon Treaty, which enshrined this dialogue into primary law (Art 17 TFEU). The high-point of this dialogue, which is also carried out at other levels, is the annual high-level meeting with senior religious leaders.
Against the background of the European year for Citizenship 2013, participants exchanged views on, among other matters, the question how to bring Europe closer to its citizens and how to intensify the dialogue with citizens and civil society organisations.
The Catholic Church was represented in this high level meeting by Archbishop Manuel Clemente, the Patriarch of Lisbon, Mgr Jean Kockerols, auxiliary Bishop of Brussels and COMECE Vice-President and by Mgr Youssef Soueif, Archbishop of the Maronites and COMECE delegate of Cyprus. During the meeting, they offered their own reflection on the European citizenship. Their views can best be summed up as follows:
The contemporary notion of citizenship within the European family of nations is complex and draws on the many traditions we encounter within the EU. One of the foundational traditions is Christian and that heritage has profoundly influenced our idea of citizenship, not least in terms of the values we find at the heart of this concept.
The most important characteristic is that in a Christian understanding of citizenship, rights must be balanced by duties, our entitlements must be paired with out civic responsibilities. In fact, the Christian should think first of duties and responsibilities and should strive to create a society which is inclusive, open and particularly sensitive to those whose full rights are not being respected or who, although living among us, enjoy none of the privileges of citizenship we take so much for granted. This challenge to the Christian conscience is even more urgent in the present time of socio-economic crisis, as is the need to inject the notion of citizenship with its proper spiritual dimension, essential if Europe is to find its “soul “.
Catholics ought to consider ’active’ citizenship in their neighbourhood and their countries but also in Europe not just as a question of ‘pure’ political involvement, but also as ‘activeness’ for example in charitable, volunteering institutions. This is a very important aspect of an active, ‘healthy’ and responsible European citizenship. The network of Catholic organizations can also play an important role in meeting this goal.
Twenty senior representatives from Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions and from the Hindu community from all over Europe participated also in this meeting.