Christians had a special responsibility in moments such as Europe’s current crisis, President Jerzy Buzek of the European Parliament told participants of the European Prayer Breakfast in Brussels last week.
Today’s crisis was one of values, not economics, he added. Material development had not been accompanied by spiritual development. Yet competitiveness needed justice. Jobs needed a work ethic. Welfare required values and responsibility.
Without love, we were just clanging gongs, clashing cymbals, he said, quoting the Apostle Paul.
‘Our special responsibility as Christians is to be salt and light,’ he urged his listeners gathered from the political world across Europe, adding, ‘and we must promote this idea.’
Buzek came to the breakfast straight from a meeting of EU leaders on the monetary crisis. ‘There is a real difference in the atmosphere here!’ he remarked on arrival. ‘Here you are looking to God!’
Referring to his Lutheran affiliation, the president said he had always been a strong supporter of ecumenical initiatives.
The year 2013 would mark the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, he reminded his audience. That event had been a turning point bringing freedom of religion to the Roman Empire. Christianity from then on had become the main driving force shaping Europe.
While over the centuries Christianity had produced both good and bad experiences, the former Polish prime minster conceded, it had bequeathed to Europe a rich heritage of values and beliefs.
Fascism and communism had strongly challenged this heritage in the 20th century, he recalled, both of which had tried to change the face of Europe. But their demise had resulted in Europe’s reunification and in unprecedented growth. This must not be forgotten as we faced today’s challenges, said Buzek, a professor of chemical engineering.
The question today was if the Christian heritage was still valid–or was it simply a respectable but useless historical culture? The answer in his opinion was that it was this heritage that had produced tolerance and openness for understanding.
‘If we give it up, it will be replaced by a spiritual emptiness corroded by nationalism and particularism (self-interest),’ he added. Then, addressing the relationship between church and state, he explained that both were autonomous domains. ‘But autonomy is not separation. Cooperation is important for a fair and just society.’
Yet Europe was being weakened by an aggressive secularism with a negative tolerance, he continued. It wanted to lock faith away into a small box of privacy.
If unchecked, it would undo the tolerance won in 313 with the Edict of Milan, he warned.
Buzek recalled his days with the Polish trade union Solidarność (Solidarity), challenging the communist Polish government. This had been a movement based on Christian values, he explained, not a movement for capitalism.
At the first national congress in 1981, which he chaired, Buzek explained: ‘We held a prayer breakfast each day with 1000 delegates. Christian values and Christian love was the basis for Solidarność.‘
Why not capitalism? Because Poland–and Europe–could not be only pragmatic, founded on economics. Answers to the real challenges related to values, not technique, he stated.
In an earlier speech to EU officials, the president had observed that the ‘spirit of solidarity’ united people to rescue something very important: a community and its good. Both Poland and Europe had survived crises, poverty, oppression and wars–not because of a robust economy or wealth but because of solidarity built on faith in common good.
In the 1980s, in Poland, the slogan of Solidarność was ‘no freedom without solidarity’. Today we could say ‘no EU without solidarity’, he suggested.
The European Union faced, at root, a crisis of trust. Many felt that the EU was part of the problem but Buzek believed the opposite was true. The glue that kept the Union together was actually ‘solidarity’–between regions, countries and generations.
Lack of trust was caused by a crisis of values. And that pointed to the special responsibility he felt Christians carried in moments like these. To be salt and light.
Till next week,