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Faith and politics in Venice

Faith and politics in VeniceEdmond Grace’s focus on politics and faith brought him to Venice for a week-long reflection on the topic, together with twenty-six young adults – the photo shows them outside San Marco. They came from Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Poland; the event was organised through a network of Jesuit centres around Europe, including the Manresa Spirituality Centre in Dollymount. Venice itself became part of the seminar, 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.’

Faith and politics in Venice

Edmond Grace SJ

You would be forgiven for raising your eyebrows and asking: Venice? At the height of the tourist season? Might that not be demanding too much of their enthusiasm? The best people to answer these questions are the participants themselves and the comments which follow are from the three who came from Ireland.

• “The synergy generated among the participants was remarkable; the openness and the enthusiasm infectious. The leadership team really pulled it together, keeping us on track and engaged.” Jonathan Clynch.

• “Campo di Gesuiti became home to a crucible of conflicting ideas and ideology; produced great debates and insights. I suspect that few, if any participants – including the hosts – were left untouched by the experience.” Dearbhail McDonald.

• “The Venice experience shows how we can, and why we should, step back from the the horrific speed of our daily agendas. We were given time to reflect on how to merge practical faith with meaningful living.” Dee O’Donnell.

The city itself became part of the seminar, 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.’ The fact that the Jesuit project finally took shape in Venice greatly enhanced the Jesuit dimension.

Each morning there was a brief input on Jesuit spirituality, followed by a longer session on a relevant topic. Four of these were from members of the organising team – on secularisation, the nation state, Catholic social teaching and St. Paul. Among the invited speakers were Pavel Fischer, Czech Ambassador to Paris (and former political advisor to Vaclav Havel) and Dr. Eva Lohse, the first elected (and first female) Mayor of Ludwigshaven in Germany.

There was enough time each day to do some exploring without intruding on our fairly tight schedule. The city is compact – we were only a fifteen minute walk from the Rialto – but, as the week passed, the crowds of tourist Venice made it less appealing than the quiet charm of our own relaxed, and beautiful, neighbourhood. We also had, at our disposal, one of Europe’s great Jesuit churches. Staying next door to ‘La Gesuita’ brought a new appreciation of the baroque style, not just as architecture but as an expression of spirituality.

The whole week was a celebration of faith and number of factors contributed – the inputs on Jesuit spirituality, the availability of mass each morning, the sharing groups, which met daily, and a period of quiet prayer each evening – but the location itself played a part. Because we were in an uncrowded part of the city, there was an extraordinary sense of quiet – no crowds and absolutely no motor vehicles on the streets. The quiet helped to form our fellowship and, to echo one of the comments above, no one was left untouched.