The weather forecast was rain in the morning followed by bright spells in the after noon. It turned out to be a lovely ‘bright spelly’ morning and by afternoon it was lashing down! The traffic was horrendous as I made my way over to All Hallows College at 4.30 to help the CFJ team set up for the Future of Europe Faith and Values public seminar. I felt more than a little trepidation as I looked around the lovely but BIG Woodstock Hall with all those empty chairs … rows and rows of empty chairs , and three at the top for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Professor Tony Fahey and Marian Finucane. Would there be anyone else there, we all wondered? It would take real commitment to venture forth through Dublin rain and traffic on such a night.
Oh we of little faith! By half six the rain dried up and the last remnants of autumnal sun shone through the whitening clouds. By seven (starting time) the hall was packed and for the next half hour we were ferrying in extra chairs to accommodate the over 170 people who turned up. And they weren’t disappointed. Archbishop Martin raised the question of what Christianity could do for Europe and Tony Fahey countered with reflections on what Europe might do to Christianity, drawing conclusions from his fascinating ten-year survey on the faith and values of citizens in a rapidly changing Ireland and Europe. He categorized the Irish Catholic faithful into four groups at this point in time; the orthodox Catholics, the social Catholics, the creative Catholics and the lapsed Catholics. The social Catholics is the fastest growing group (I baptize my child but don’t really practice too much myself!)
10pm – seminar over, flowers and banners into taxis and cars and off with them and us at high speed to the bowels of Croke Park,to set them up for the Future of Europe Conference the following morning. No worry about who would turn up there on that lovely sunny day (over 250 in fact –many pre-booked )with Croke Park looking stunning and my little heart overflowing as I relived Tyrone lifting the Sam Maguire only two days earlier. Professor Bridget Laffan, one of the speakers from Kerry, professed herself not so content with the location but you can’t win them all !
The day itself was excellent and each of the speakers delivered thought provoking and insightful papers. The level of engagement from the audience after each address was testament to the quality of the speeches from, among others, the Taoiseach, Peter Sutherland and the absolutely hilarious and irreverent David Mc Williams. One of the more repeatable names he called us was ‘ameropeans’, a country getting the best of Boston and Berlin, doing so well economically here in Ireland because the main players in Europe were in some disarray whilst we happily continued and developed our special relationship with the USA!
By the time Doris Peschke spoke about immigrants, refugees and fortress Europe at the end of the day, it was clear that some really useful exploratory paths of discussion had opened up for a very interested and interesting group of people. John Bowman in the chair observed that it was a long time since he’d been at an event where almost everyone who got up to ask a question actually made a mini-speech!
John Dardis summed it all up at the end when he noted that too often debate here about Europe and the EU is narrow and introspective, focusing only on our own concerns. But there is a whole continent of issues to be addressed of equal and often even more importance and relevance to us on this island and which requires that we look outward not just inward.
The very next morning after the conference I got a phone call from the Greek Counsellor Konstantinos Piperigos to thank us all for the day. He said he enjoyed it so much that instead of leaving at lunch time which he had intended to do, he remained until the very end. And what’s more, Geraldine received an email the next morning from the Croatian ambassador saying that the conference was “more than useful to me and I congratulate the Jesuits for organizing it”. He also said he’d like to “enhance the cooperation” between us. Now those are real tributes to everyone involved!