Page 7, 25th July 1980

25th July 1980
Page 7
Page 7, 25th July 1980 — Clambering over Europe's icy wall
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Clambering over Europe's icy wall

The heart of the European Economic Community is in Brussels. Here a committed European looks at the efforts the Church is making there towards turning the ideals of the EEC' into reality.

THE BERLAYMONT building in Brussels. Belgium, is a very secular looking place. It's a 13 storey, three-pronged spaceship. Loftily straddling a large corner site beside one of the main city highways, it houses the 8,000 international civil servants who work for the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC).

You can wander round the corridors for hours, looking for your host's office, and never find it. (There's this tale of the lion which escaped from Antwerp Zoo, and hid itself in the Berlaymont basement. It prowled out to eat an employee a day, to placate the pangs of hunger, and no-one

even noticed . until one fateful day it ate the tealady !) Well, the Eurocrats, as some call them, are not really that faceless, but there must be many crises of identity lived through daily in those anonymous surroundings.

It's hard to recall that you're fulfilling a vision, faced all day with all that glass, concrete and close carpeting.

Although some of the chief architects of the Community were deeply committed Christians — Schuman, Adenauer, de Gaspari — the cause was never presented as a specifically Christian one. (Nor

was the Treaty. of Ronne a Catholic plot — though incredibly that fact has sometimes to be spelled out in words of one syllable). Nevertheless, it is not too difficult to perceive deep Christian insights in the vision of reconciliation enshrined in the creation of a united Europe.

Many people label the EEC a "Rich Man's Club". So it is. The important question is: what sort of Club is Europe turning out to be? And have Christians anything worthwhile to say about the direction Europe is taking?

In the long struggle to draw Western European peoples together, has the Church been in there when the going was tough, making her particular contribution? Or has she, as so often in the past, ignored economic and political realities, and sat around making polite noises on the sidelines?

The comment of Pope John Paul II, to the Bureau of the European Parliament was; "The institutions alone will never create Europe; it is men who will do so." And there are, of course, plenty of individual Christians heavering away in Brussels. Some of them are very high powered: most of them are expatriates.

The, churches of differing linguistic and denominational groupings have a task in Brussels which is quite different front that in a more familiar home setting. The pastoral task is huge: there are endless problems of loneliness, disorientation, infidelity and divorce, The Catholic Church is one major denomination which has been taking the EEC seriously. The Pastoral Action Group of the European Catholic Centre in Brussels recently issued a paper which clearly set out the malaise felt by some local church groups. "We have never been able to climb over the icy wall which separates us from the 'Berlaymonster'." it states. "And yet, that is our first priority. The solitiude, the injustices, the despair, the frustration, the boredom which exist within the European administration — that is our field of action," Archbishop Eugene Cardinale, the Apostolic Nuncio in Brussels, has been the Pope's personal representative to the European Community since 1970. Born in Boston, educated in the United States and Rome, and fluent. in five of the six official community languages, he is a dynamic personality, a deeply respected diplomat, and staunch European.

Beyond his diplomatic tasks, he is constantly concerned about Community actions which may have far-reaching pastoral implications decisions relating to migrant workers, for instance, and relationships with nonmember states.

For over 20 years there has been in Brussels a Catholic European Study and Information Centre (OCIPE) with a mandate to inform and instruct the churches. Er Jean Weydert, a Jesuit who is its director, works closely with the other Christians in a Joint Task Force, which seeks to examine in a Christian context the Community's record in the field of aid and development.

Its work is both critical and constructive, and of particular interest to Christians working in and for developing countries and to Community officials coming to terms with a whole new set of self-aware emergent nations.

OCIPE has no representative function, and Fr Weydert emphasises the necessity of the Centre remaining independent. A far more official body was established in Brussels in 1976 by the Catholic Church in the shape of a European Catholic Pastoral Information Service (SIPECA), headed by Mgr Gerhard Bauer. Its chief Kite is to alert the Bishops' Conferences in Europe to their pastoral responsibilities within the Community.

SIPECA's rifle is certainly developing, but progress is slow; the Vatican now tends to spend a great deal of time on sensitive East-West issues.

Altogether there arc now something like 2000 offices in Brussels concerned with some kind of liaison with the EEC, Other churches could, with profit, reflect on the importance of being involved in this growing activity. Why do so many of them wait around until the options are no longer open? There • are many aspects of Community policy crying out for moral and theological critiques: energy and conservation policy, social policy, regional policy, aid and development policy.

It is not an answer to cry that the issues, at the European level, are too complex: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof-. Our increasing interdependence calls for increasing expertise on the part of Christians. We need to understand the issues before we can comment on them with any competence or vision.

Mrs Elizabeth Salter is Religious News Editor for BBC Radio Solent. Southampton, and lectures for the European Movement. .4 longer version of this article was published in the .Audenshaw Papers earlier this year.




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