A group of nearly 30 young people recently attended the third Faith and Politics Workshop in the Jesuits’ University Hostel in Venice, Italy. One of the organisers of this two-yearly event is Edmond Grace SJ, who spearheads the Irish ‘Conversation on Democracy’, an ongoing think-tank which examines the workings of the democratic process at a local and national level. A highlight at this year’s workshop was the contribution of Irishman Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament, who took the participants through the practical issues involved in managing a situation which could undermine democracy. Venice was chosen as the ideal location for these events both because of its place in European history and because this was where Ignatius and his companions first gave themselves the name ‘Society of Jesus.’ See Edmond brief account of the workshop below.
A WEEK IN VENICE
Edmond Grace SJ
In all its varied history the city of Venice has probably not seen much Clonakilty black pudding, but one morning in late August at the University Hostel in Campo di Gesuiti this lack was remedied as the Irish contingent to this year’s Faith and Politics Workshop prepared breakfast. This is the third such workshop for ‘young adult’ Europeans – i.e. in or around their late twenties – and it has become customary for each national group to bring a sample of their native cuisine. The participants came from Malta, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Britain and Ireland and they shared an interest in both the life of faith and in political commitment.
The workshop lasted six days, beginning on a Sunday evening and ending on the morning of the following Sunday, and the attitude of the group combined commitment, reflection and fun. Venice, with its extraordinary history, serves as an ideal backdrop to reflecting on politics in a European context but it has an added advantage which is not immediately evident. The absense of traffic means that the place is quiet and this, combined with the pervasive presence of water, has a powerful effect as the days pass. Added to this the silent presence next door of the beautiful baroque church – ‘La Gesuiti’ – really did set a tone.
Most of the inputs are given by members of the organising team – five Jesuits and one lay man living in six different countries – but we also invite some guest speakers. This year they included Anna Staropoli who comes from Palermo and spoke about community development in a part of the city dominated by Mafia. We also invited Jerome Vignon, a recently retired Director General of the EU Commission; he spoke of how his Christian faith often led him to offer ‘resistance within the system’ to policies which damaged the marginalised.
Our final guest speaker, from Ireland, was Pat Cox; his contribution was based on one particular incident in his own career – the crisis arising out of the Austrian Freedom Party’s participation in government in 2000. Along with Cathy, his wife, Pat’s participation in the Seminar was generous both in time and in friendship and that was certainly one of the highlights for all of us who were there.