High-Level Religious Meeting in Brussels

thumb_p-021280-00-281On July 12, 2012 a meeting was held at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. The meeting brought together several European religious leaders such as Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos, Archbishop of Albania Anastasios, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Metropolitan Niphon from Roumania, Metropolitan Athanasios from Greece, Roman Catholic and Protestant Bishops, Chief Rabbis and Muslim representatives. There were also a Hindu and a Bahá’í representatives. The event was jointly chaired by Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council and László Surján, Vice-President of the European Parliament.

The general topic that was proposed and discussed at the meeting was “Intergenerational solidarity: setting the parameters for tomorrow’s society in Europe”. In his letter to the invitees President Barroso underscored his belief that an active contribution of religious communities is needed to address issues such as: sustainability, transmitting skills and knowledge from one generation to the next, caring for those at the edge of our societies and weakened by the current economic crisis.

Further information with press and audiovisual material are published: on President Barroso’s website and on BEPA’s website.

Here follows Metropolitan Athanasios of Achaias’ intervention.

“As representative of the Church of Greece to the EU, please allow me to speak briefly about the situation in Greece today.

We first need to speak the truth about our reality.

The situation in Greece today is exacerbated mainly by the fact that a speedy remedy is required at a time that both the state mechanism and a large part of the population seem unprepared to quickly readjust their way of solving urgent problems efficiently. This is the cause of cracking effects in the society network. Loans that are impossible to be paid back by people suddenly left unemployed. High education expenses oblige young students to reorient their life. Almost 50% of the generation between 20- 35 are unemployed in Greece today. This fact makes many of them accuse the older generation of having wasted or misspent their future. A month ago I was in Athens and I was walking down the Patission street, once one of the busiest shopping centers in Athens. It grieved me deeply to see one closed shop after another. Only pawnshops have popped up on every corner speaking volumes of the stark new reality. Finding it hard to pay off their debts, the Greeks, especially those living in the cities, are selling off their valuables very cheap. Crime is on the rise and illegal immigration impacts the already malfunctioning state mechanism, especially the health system. The mayor of Athens recently said: “The center of Athens is like a melting pot of all the variants of the crisis gripping Greek society”.

Rays of optimism.

Nevertheless, everything is not gloomy. The family ties are still very strong in Greece. With current unemployment rate at a staggering 23% the good old family bonds save the day in Greece today. There are young people as well as young businessmen who excel in what they do. There are journalists who do not only give a pessimist depiction of everyday life, but they try to highlight exemplary and promising achievements. There is a tremendous solidarity among different social strata. Volunteerism is a growing trend in Greece, with groups eager to lend a hand to those in need popping up in every neighborhood. Both companies and private individuals try hard to save welfare institutions that may not prosper as in the past, but they still strive to accomplish their mission. Private initiatives like “We can (Μπορούμε)- Saving food, saving hives” and the Greek Food Bank are of significant help. Corporate social responsibility is on the rise, with more companies “giving back”. The Church, especially on a parish level, together with local authorities collaborate to ease the dire consequences of the economic crisis. Church and municipal actions like the creation of welfare grocery shops and pharmacies are all working towards dealing with a new emerging social reality. There are young people who have no job, but still take the Athens metro in groups every morning only to start laughing, thus trying to cheer up both themselves and the often pensive passengers. There is a widespread understanding among young people that they have to pick up the fallen torch and find a way out.

Beyond populist arguments by politicians who fuel ungrounded expectations, Greeks today say to each other: “keep a stiff upper lip. We have seen and survived worse”. Greeks today understand that they need hope and dreams based on hard work to be a source of the motivation they need to succeed. What they really ask for is opportunities to work. Work offers hope and hope is each one’s motive for action. We think that the European family can help us justify our hope. And something else: We Greeks, deep in our mind, felt that we live because we believe. Believing permits us to take command of our tomorrow. We had our share of impulsive actions in our long history, but we tried to keep our dignity and our composure under difficult situations and usually we bounced back. We somehow managed to save our optimism, not so much in the sense of a belief that the best will prevail, but mainly in the sense of a belief that things will evolve according to what God has in stock for us. This belief time and again has proved itself to be firmly grounded. After all, this belief served us well for many centuries. And the Church plays a key role today helping to keep this belief up as she did in the past twenty centuries.”