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Faith and politics in Venice

The sixth Venice Faith and Politics Workshop organised by a European Jesuit Network, took place this year from 21-28 August. One of  the guest speakers was Justin MacDermott, who has worked with migrants in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and now works for Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Migration.

The bi-annual workshop began in 2006 and Irish Jesuit Edmond Grace has been one of the organisers from the beginning. “When we gathered ten years ago for the first Faith and Politics Workshop, we knew that Venice was beautiful and historic and a centre of power and intrigue and artistic creativity,” he recalls. ” But we had yet to learn how this quiet place would help those on the workshop to become quiet and to go deep.” This year, twenty eight participants from nine different countries all arrived at the university hostel in Campo di Gesuiti to do just that.

“The workshop takes place in the university hostel next door to ‘I Gesuiti,’ a beautiful baroque church. The custom has grown up of each group bringing some food typical of their own nation. It is introduced and explained with a sense of pride and celebration and then enjoyed!” This year participants came from Portugal, Ukraine, Ireland, Albania, Spain, Britain, Italy and France. Edmond says the fact that people attending the Faith and Politics Workshop come from so many different countries means there is always a playful sense of diversity in the group but also an awareness of being European.

The workshop itself has a fairly packed schedule with varied challenging inputs but it all centres on two moments, he says. Firstly, there is the group reflection where people share with each other each day at a more personal level. Secondly, each evening everyone gathers in the church for a time of silence. It begins usually with a Taizé chant and a short introduction and ends with a repetition of the same chant. “As the week goes on people are more inclined to take their time before moving on to the next part of the day,” he notes.

Most of the input is in-house and the workshop is very much like a retreat though with specific focus, and the workshop always has powerful effect on those who come. The Venetian mode of transport plays its part in this, according to Edmond. “It’s a mistake to think that boats in Venice are like cars elsewhere. The vaporetto or taxi will only get you so far and gondolas always bring you back to where you started. In Venice most people, most of the time, travel by foot and this has an effect – which those of us who live in a world of cars, buses, trains and jets,- cannot immediately grasp. It takes a few days to appreciate that Venice is a quiet place.”

The time to reflect in peace and quiet in the beautiful city of Venice bears fruit. “There was, as with all who have gathered in Venice down the years for the Faith and Politics Workshop, a shared sense of Christian calling to public life.”