35 young people from eight European countries, including Ireland, spent a week in August considering the application of faith to politics, especially in the light of current tensions in Europe. They considered such big challenges to the 'European project' as the lack of appropriate governance, the need for a sustainable solution to the Euro crisis and the full integration of member and candidate states.
Guest of honour at the workshop sessions was Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy and president of the European Commission. He addressed the fourth Faith and Politics workshop in Venice last week, from 19-26 August. He was one of a number of invited guests to speak to participants in this annual initiative of European Jesuit institutions working in political and social fields.
Sr Prodi spoke on a number of topics, including Europe’s relationship with China, where he teaches in a business school for part of each year, and with Africa, where he heads a joint United Nations/African Union panel on peace-keeping. He had much to say on how he himself dealt with the challenges of public life, but more important than anything, he said, was the readiness of both himself and his wife, Flavia, to come and spend time with a small group of young people from around Europe looking at public life from the perspective of a shared Christian faith.
One of the Organising Team of this biennial workshop is Edmond Grace SJ, who has worked extensively in recent years with Irish politicians and public servants to reimagine what is entailed in democracy, specifically in the Irish context. Speaking about this year's workshop, Edmond says: "A life of faith in the chaos of politics is a particular kind of Christian calling, and the Venice Faith and Politics Workshop is there to help young adults to consider this calling in their own lives. The workshop takes place every two years and, since its first session in 2006, over one hundred people, aged 20 to 35, from a number of countries around Europe, have participated."
"This was our fourth session, and as the week progressed a deep sense of community and shared faith developed among the participants. Those of us involved in organising the event have come to expect this, which is why, among ourselves, a powerful bond of friendship has grown. A real sense of flesh-and-blood European identity has taken root – no longer just Irish or Polish or Italian or anything else. The fact that it happens in Venice, where the early group of Jesuits spent a critical time, adds to the sense of inspiration and gratitude."