Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Addresses European Parliament
BRUSSELS, Belgium – His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivered a major address to the Plenary Assembly of the European Parliament during the formal sitting of the assembly in Brussels, Belgium on Wednesday, September 24, 2008. His All Holiness was introduced by Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering, President of the European Parliament. The Press Release of the European Parliament highlighting His All Holiness’ address is given in full below, as well as a link to the address in its entirety.
"We are all brothers and sisters", Ecumenical Patriarch tells MEPs
Addressing a formal sitting of the House as part of European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I, spoke of the value of the European project in promoting peace and tolerance, the importance of accepting minorities and the need for the EU to accept Turkey as a member. He also underlined his church's efforts to encourage respect for the environment.
Introducing the Ecumenical Patriarch, EP President Hans-Gert Pöttering stressed that "The European Union is a community based on values, the most fundamental of which is human dignity. In this respect religious freedom is central to human dignity". He linked this to the separation of church and state, as anchored in the Lisbon Treaty.
Mr Pöttering described the Patriarch as "a beacon to your followers in the Orthodox world" and pointed out that recent EU enlargements had brought in the Orthodox countries of Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania. He added "The late Pope John Paul II used the metaphor of Europe breathing again with its two lungs after the downfall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. We could also use this metaphor to refer to the richness in the enlarged EU brought through the different perspectives of Western and Eastern Christianity".
Dialogue is "at the very root of what it means to be a human being"
In the opening part of his speech, the Patriarch told MEPs "our Ecumenical Patriarchate embraces a truly global apostolate that strives to raise and broaden the consciousness of the human family – to bring understanding that we are all dwelling in the same house." For twenty centuries the Patriarchate "has continued as a lighthouse for the human family and the Christian Church. It is from the depths of our experience upon these deep waters of history that we offer to the contemporary world a timeless message of perennial human value."
His core idea was that "Dialogue is necessary first and foremost because it is inherent in the nature of the human person". In other words, "intercultural dialogue is at the very root of what it means to be a human being, for no one culture of the human family encompasses every human person. Without such dialogue, the differences in the human family are reduced to objectifications of the “other” and lead to abuse, conflict, persecution – a grand scale human suicide, for we are all ultimately one humanity. But where the differences between us move us to encounter one another and where that encounter is based in dialogue, there is reciprocal understanding and appreciation – even love."
Importance of the European project
The Patriarch then stressed that "the significance of the 'European project' cannot be underestimated. It is one of the hallmarks of the European Union that it has succeeded in promoting mutual, peaceful and productive co-existence between nation states that less than seventy years ago were drenched in a bloody conflict that could have destroyed the legacy of Europe for the ages."
Only one ecosphere
There must be a more profound understanding of the interdependence of every single human person with every other single human person, continued the Patriarch, explaining "there is a way of understanding the universe in which we live as being shared by all", namely an "ecosphere that contains us all".
For this reason, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has long championed environmental causes. For example, it has "sponsored seven scientific symposia that bring together a host of disciplines". In 1995 it launched an ambitious program of "integrating current scientific knowledge about the oceans with the spiritual approach of the world's religions to water, particularly the world's oceans". The project has visited the Danube, the Adriatic, the Baltic, the Amazon, the Arctic, and is preparing to sail the Nile and the Mississippi next year.
Acceptance of minorities
Ecology could be seen not only as an important practical issue but as a metaphor for social issues, went on the Patriarch. "As an institution, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has lived as a relatively small ecosystem within a much larger culture for centuries. Out of this long experience, allow us to suggest the most important practical characteristic that enables the work of intercultural dialogue to succeed", namely "above all, there must be respect for the rights of the minority within every majority. When and where the rights of the minority are observed, the society will for the most part be just and tolerant". Indeed "only when we embrace the fullness of shared presence within the ecosphere of human existence, are we then able to face the “otherness” of those around us". This led him to the subject of Turkey.
Turkey: tolerance and understanding needed on both sides
To applause from the House, he explained "This is why Europe needs to bring Turkey into its project and why Turkey needs to foster intercultural dialogue and tolerance to be accepted into the European project. Europe should not see any religion that is tolerant of others as alien to itself. The great religions, like the European project, can be a force for transcending nationalism and can even transcend nihilism and fundamentalism by focusing their faithful on what unites us as human beings, and by fostering a dialogue about what divides us."
He pointed out that "From our country, Turkey, we perceive both a welcome to a new economic and trading partner, but we also feel the hesitation that comes from embracing, as an equal, a country that is predominantly Muslim. And yet Europe is filled with millions of Muslims who have come here from all sorts of backgrounds and causations; just as Europe would still be filled with Jews, had it not been for the horrors of the Second World War." Istanbul was looking forward to being European Capital of Culture in 2010, he added.
Peace and prosperity: Patriarchate ready to contribute
Lastly, Bartholomew I assured Parliament that "the Ecumenical Patriarchate stands ready to make vital contributions to the peace and prosperity of the European Union". By way of conclusion, he said: "We are all brothers and sisters with one heavenly Father and on this beautiful planet, which we are all responsible for, there is room for everyone."