Fr John Gallagher, SJ, explains an unusual apostolate in the EEC, now under a new head
OCIPE "Office Catholique d'information our les problemes Europeans" is doing a vital job in the European Community. It forms a liaison between the European institutions and the Cathlolic church. It provides a service of information to Catholic organizations about the problems involved in the construction of Europe, and is a channel for Catholic opinion to reach the men and women responsible for the major decisions at the heart of Europe. It was founded in 1956 b) the bishop of Strasbourg, Mgr Seber, and entrusted to the Jesuits. It was first thought of in 1949 when the Council of Europe was founded as an attempt to pick up the pieces after the Second World War and to pave the way to lasting peace. The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951, and of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, created the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. It was then felt that there should be a connecting link between the new European institutions and the Church.
OCIPE has two permanent offices one in Strasbourg, near the Council of Europe building; the other is in Brussels, opposite the Berlaymont building, which houses over 8,000 "Eurocrats". Today European matters are adequately covered by the national Press, radio and TV. OCIPE concentrates on providing discussion and cooperation between the European Community and the Church.
I works closely with the Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society in Europe. This was founded in the sixties by the Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant churches. Together they organize conferences and study groups on a European level. The results are published in quarterly reviews in French "Objectif Europe" and in German "Troject Europe". This is the first time OCIPE's work has appeared in the English Press.
OCIPE is guided and encouraged by a steering committee a group of about 30 people from the various countries of the European Community, representing the Church, trade unions, management, non-governmental organizations, higher education etc. The president of this committee is Dutch, Kevrouw Marga Klomps. OCIPE is financed by the Holy See, the bishops of the different countries in the European Community, and by some governments, notq.bly the Belgian and the OCIPE now has its first English director Fr Paul Symonds S. J. With him is a German Jesuit, Fr Gabor Tegyey, and an Italian, Fr Mario Coangrunde, who has pastoral responsibility for migrant workers. They have two parttime secretaries, Madame Marie Derche, who is French, and looks after the Strasbourg office, and Madame Claire Vecoven, who is Belgian and looks after the busy Brussels centre with great efficiency.
Most of OCIPE's work is in Brussels, where they Share a building with the Foyer Catholique European a pastoral centre for European civil servants. This centre is staffed by four Jesuits, two Italians and two Belgians. One of Fr Symonds' assignments is to attract English speaking people
to the centre. He has a midday Mass in English which is attended by members of the European Commission, the British Council and the British Embassy.
Each month, the OCIPE's officials go to Strasbourg to follow the plenary sessions of the European Parliament and to keep in touch with the Council of Europe. They have an ecumenical study group for members of the European Parliament which meets regularly in Strasbourg to discuss topics of special interest to Christians. It attracts representatives of all the European countries, and a good cross-section of the different political allegiances.
The largest international group who attend regularly are the British. In Brussels, they have similar meetings for European civil servants. These study groups are used by those who are sincerely seeking God's will in their professional commitments. Through the media we tend to hear mainly of the tensions and quarrels in the
European Community. It is refreshing to meet civil servants, some in high positions, who are inspired by noble ideals.
There have been recent discussions with European trade union leaders on the vital question of the responsibility of the trade unions for migrant workers. Representatives of rural organizations from both the Third World and Europe have worked out policies with ENC officials. Members of various Catholic international groups have dealt with the enormous question of the struggle against poverty in Europe, in close division with EEC Commission.
The goal is to present to the EEC a Christian answer to the many problems of the growing European community. Obviously there is no simple answer to those difficulties, but the work of OCIPE is to facilitate the action of God by bringing together people who are both professionally competent and committed Christians.
In March, 1980, the Commission of the episcopacies of the European community was established. It deals with the specifically pastoral problems posed by the construction of Europe and tries to co-ordinate pastoral policies. Its president is Bishop Hengebach from Germany, and its secretary Mgr Enot-Ileuroux from France. It works closely with OCIPE, for whom it is ecclesiastically responsible, and regularly published a clear and concise information bulletin on European affairs called "L'Europe au fil dos fours."
This work of the Church with the officials of the developing European entity is a work of faith. It is a modern response to the divine command, "Go and teach all nations". Faith can move mountains, even "butter mountains"!