2012 - Saint Thomas Strasbourg

EXECUTIVE REPORT
OF THE REGIONAL EUROPEAN MEETING
(SOUTH AND WEST EUROPE)
from 16th to 18th March 2012
at SAINT-THOMAS CENTRE in STRASBOURG

To begin with this report, we want to express our deep gratitude to the JSL for its generous support, which mainly helped us to have this colloquium done.

1. Who are we ?

An European network set up in 1982 – in France in 1984 – The Ecumenical Forum of European Christian women has got groups in 27 countries, holds its general Meeting every four years and a meeting of its national Coordinators every year. In 2003, 70 national Coordinators met at CIARUS in Strasbourg, with the very appreciated support of the same local authorities, on the subject “ Towards an open Europe united in justice”. One of the first objectives of our network is in fact to contribute, with meeting of reflection and of training, to form a European identity common to women all over Europe and to endeavour them to participate actively to the social and institutional life of Europe.

The French Forum group has got two active groups since the beginning, one in Paris and the other one in Strasbourg. The programme of this meeting has been prepared at the national level, but the Strasbourg group, animated by MMs Anne-Marie SCHOTT and Marjolaine CHEVALLIER had the responsibility to look for contributors, to focus the details of the programme and to provide the material organization of this event.

2. “The Christians in Near and Middle East : an unknown reality” – Why this subject?

It is very closely linked to the reality of these two last years. In fact, the media always informed us about the murder attempts against Christians and various persecutions concerning the Churches in several countries of the Near East (Irak and Egypt in particular) . We have begun to collect information and to meet persons knowing these Churches. These violences have provoked the speeding-up of an exodus which began since several years, in particular among the Christians from Palestine. The French government decided in 2010 to accept some hundreds of Christian refugees from Irak. Declarations from responsible persons in our Churches called to testify of our solidarity with these Christians running away from their country. And we, Christian women in France, how can we express our solidarity to these communities and above all, to these women who live among us ?
So in 2011 we tried to have preliminary contacts with the Christian communities welcoming representatives of various Churches of the Near and Middle East . These exiled people are scattered in the Parisian region and very strongly concerned by the re-forming of their community in our country. But it is in Strasbourg, thanks to an Iraqi Dominican Brother that two women recently recognized as refugees in France have accepted to testify of what they have suffered before leaving Irak.

3. The participants

Firstly we have to greet the presence among us of the representative of the Holy See close to European institutions, Mgr Giordano, as well as the diocesan delegate of the “Oeuvre d’Orient,” Father Vigneron, representative of the archbishop of Strasbourg. This last who travelled several times to Irak has brought his personal support to what the witnesses said. He also underlined the extreme difficulties the persecuted persons are confronted to when they arrive in France without an entrance visa.

The audience was feminine and European in majority. As we have met the same interest for the situation of Middle East Christians and Churches in neighbouring countries, we had decided to offer to Forum women from those countries to participate in the Strasbourg meeting. Thus we got an European vision, at least partial, of the situation of these communities over our borders. We were about forty participants including about two third of French women from various regions and a third of women coming from Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Spain. Thanks to the financial support we obtained, we could contribute to the travel’s expenses of the participants coming from the remotest countries.

4. Headlines of the programme

The time of the colloquium was rather short : a week-end from Friday 5 p.m. to Sunday morning. At first we had to bring to participants historical, religious, cultural and geostrategic well-documented information, to understand the origins and approach the present realities of these so various communities . We had also to foresee times of spiritual sharing, reflection and exchanges.

On Friday night, we listened to representatives of each country who reported about the situation of Middle Eastern Christians in their country, their visibility, the way they are accepted, eventually the personal knowledge of members of these Churches. We noticed that these communities are the most visible in France and in Germany, in particular by Sunday religious programmes . But there existed few links between them and our local communities , except for the ones which give them a shelter. Furthermore, the responsible persons of those Churches are all men , so it is not easy to meet women. To develop some solidarity links, we have to create opportunities of meetings, as we did for this colloquium.

The main day was Saturday 17th march. The programme included three lectures and a round table with testimonies of two Iraqi women, coming from the region of Mossoul. After lunch, this intense and rich programme was interrupted by a trip on the Ill river to discover the town of Strasbourg. Before the festive evening organized by our women in Strasbourg, a round table allowed each of us to express emotions, reflections and propositions. An ecumenical celebration animated by the Anglican minister, Mrs Christine Bloomfield brought us all together at Sunday morning. In the last hour before lunch we tried to collect in a kind of synthesis what we held back from the day before, with questions concerning our commitments and our future actions.

5. The Contributors and the main themes taken up

The first Contributor was Mr Marc Aoun, a Lebanese, a Lecturer at the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Strasbourg. With great skill Mr Aoun related “the birth and the historical evolution of the Middle East Churches” in the geographical frame of the oriental provinces of the Roman Empire (from Egypt to Mesopotamia) and confining himself to the patriarchal said historical churches. An overall table which locates the appearing of these very numerous Christian denominations and their places of settlement allow the participants to have a global vision of this world which is so badly known in the West.

After this clear and dense report, we had the chance to listen to the testimonies of two Iraqi Christian women, recently arrived in France ; thanks to them, we could get concrete awareness of the problems these minorities of Christians were confronted to in their country of origin. Our questioning regarding them was double: What circumstances have obliged them to run away from their country and how have they been welcome in France? It has been a very intense moment of emotion to share. These women testified before an audience they did not know and spoke in Arabic. Translation was made by their compatriot Brother Philippe Koshaba, a Dominican. Their worry progressively receded as they perceived the quality of listening and the intense feelings of sympathy among the audience. They both took the advantage of particularly favourable conditions when they arrived in France but the easiness of this first integration does not decrease the suffering of exile and of the separation with those who stayed there and are permanently threatened.

In the afternoon, there was a round table for the two last contributors, Pastor Thomas Wild, President of “Action Chrétienne en Orient (A.C.O.)”, a protestant association founded in Strasbourg in 1922 and Brother Philippe Koshaba, from the Dominican community of Iraq who prepares a thesis at the Catholic Faculty of Theology in Strasbourg.

These two contributors had to inform the audience on “the future of the Christians in Middle-East in the present regional context”. Th.Wild frequently travels to the countries where the ACO supports educational projects; he said at once : “I am not optimistic but I have Hope”. We have been surprised by the humility both of them expressed in spite or because of their knowledge inside these fragile communities which struggle for their survival.

If in Iran, it is almost no more possible to speak of visible Christian communities, we can persevere with the hope, Th. Wild said, because of the presence of satellite televisions which constitute a broad opening on the world. Several hundreds of thousands of Christians would stay secretly in the country.

In Egypt, since the revolution, the situation of Christians is at the same time unsettled , various and contradictory, moments of fraternizing alternating with the threats against the Christians. The Churches have approved the popular movement on the whole. A lot of conflicts originate from land property problems increased by the social situation. The society has not yet found itself ; the future depends on how many concessions the Army will give to the civil society and on the influence these elections are going to confer to the Moslem Brothers and above all to the Salafists.

In Lebanon there is a great dispersion of communities – eighteen religious groups, eleven of which are Christians. The territoriality of the religions became worse by the civil war which also increased the gap among the opposite forces. The country has got difficulties to exist as a nation, the religions do not mix.

The repression which lasts in Syria and threatens to become a civil war has not yet brought to an end the popular support of Bachar al Assad. The Christians who have been cherished by the government and had an entire liberty of worship, dread the victory of the most reactionary Islam. Most of the Churches have appealed to a dialogue but with what sort of opposition? Its forces are divided. Finally the international interests at work make the resolution of the conflict more complex.

The future of Christians in Iraq with Islam” is the subject treated by Brother Philippe Koshaba. He first locates the extremely violent environment created by the two successive wars in the country : the Irak-Iran conflict (1990-98), the embargo imposed to Iraq which has impoverished the sectors of Health, Education, Transports and at last the American invasion since 2003. The exodus of many leaders, a lot of them being Christians, has been massive and the Iraqi scattered in 42 countries constitute the third diaspora in the world. In this dismantled country, 40% of the population is unemployed. Irak is also threatened on its borders by two fundamentalisms : the Iranian Shiism and the Wahabism in Saudi Arabia. Because of the conflicts, the fundamentalist Islamism increased considerably. The speaker insists on the important part of philosophy in the possible dialogue between Christians and Muslims. For him the drama of Islam in the Middle Age has been to be deprived of philosophers and scientific spirits, any question founding its answer in the Koran’s text. Islam has to solve its inside problem; its most advanced elements having to provide interpretations of the texts. The key for the future is education of young generations; the private religious schools which have been recently reopened can positively contribute to it.

Grand finale of this rich meeting : when she spoke, Ms Christine Bloomfield has perfectly summed up what was understood and lived the day before in a brotherly prayer. After what the participants were proposed as a conclusion a synthesis of the information to keep from these days for ecumenical forward going

6. Evaluation of the participants

We again express our gratitude to the heads and staff of the Centre St Thomas for the excellent material conditions of housing and to our friends from Strasbourg for their perfect organization and their entire dedication to our well-being. We are aware this meeting has favoured a coming closer between our groups of French women and neighbours in Europe, interested by this meeting. During the festive and relaxing moments as well as in the acquisition of new knowledge, with the leaflet distributed to the participants as introduction in the theme, and through the lectures and testimonies we listened to, we left enriched by a new opening to that other world and its history.

7. Conclusion for the future

That the reason why in Strasbourg our group is from now on engaged in a relation of true confidence with the community discovered at this colloquium. As to the Parisian group, it will take support on this first experience to try to make new contacts with the communities of refugees in the Parisian region. It is important first to make people aware of their presence , to bring better understanding, then to develop concrete ways to express our solidarity and sisterhood ; that could be the result of our colloquium.
We want also to make our European friends of the Ecumenical Forum know more about our experience so that their look could change regarding these communities of refugees and that support be brought and an open-minded relationship be developed everywhere possible.

For the F.O.F.C.E. Office, Michelle LEFEUVRE, a National Coordinator

2011 - Kirchentag Summer School

The Ecology Summer School of EFECW at the Kirchentag in Dresden

The German branch of EFECW had been invited by the women’s centre of the Kirchentag to offer a workshop “With our heart near creation – women from east and west stand up for climate protection”.

This is a topic the Ecology Summer School works at since about a decade. It was therefore the Summer School’s task to prepare the workshop. Fourteen women from Belarus, Germany, Croatia, and Serbia met in Tharandt near Dresden end of may to do this. At the same time, in the same house, met another EFECW project group, the “Neighbours around the Baltic Sea”. We enjoyed very much to eat, celebrate, meditate and worship together, though our working hours were separate. Many of the “Neighbours” finally participated in the workshop.

During the workshop preparation the “Message of St. Petersburg” played an important role. It was admired in its wording by the Summer School participants and greeted as an essential step to forward the topic ‘responsibility for creation’ in the Forum’s work. Copies of it’s translation into German were part of to the material offered to those attending the workshop.

Our aim for the workshop was to communicate a decade of experiences and to give an impulse to every participant to see to climate protection and a careful use of energy in her own scope. This includes the personal as well as the political level.

Two speakers were involved: Anja Köhne from the German board of “Friends of the Earth” dealt with climate politics. She said: “When we get aware of climate change, it is too late.” We had to stop immediately our way of consuming energy , but women with their manner of saving energy and being interested in energy efficiency were often marginalized in public discussions and in politics. We had to change our behaviour, but new technologies were necessary as well. Yet we had to be on our guard against wrong developments under the label of climate protection: atomic energy, carbon storage, geoengineering. Irina Grushevaja from the organization “For the Children of Chernobyl” very impressively told us about the dangers of atomic energy. People in Belarus do not live after the Chernobyl catastrophe but with it. The negative consequences are still omnipresent 25 years afterwards. She said, that after the nuclear accident many women were officially forced to end their pregnancy; otherwise the negative impact of radiation would be even more obvious today. Eighteen board members of her organization have died from cancer. But it seems, that nobody wanted to learn the lesson: Fukushima happened, with the Japanese people being forced to experience the same ill fate as the people from Belarus 25 years earlier.

After the introductory speaches the workshop split up in two working groups: one around the women from Belarus to learn more about their situation. The other discussed the role of women in climate protection and the frame needed for success. The discussions were animate and concentrated. All were well aware how important the subject is and how much it affects our lives as Christian women. It became clear, that

  • women from Belarus need solidarity across borders, founded on spirituality, since their whole life is imbued by the hidden catastrophe
  • as women we must live simply, economically and with care, use energy efficiently, and convince others to do the same, especially children and young people
  • we should support regionality in order to save energy and for ecological, social, and democratic reasons
  • we must find a political way to insist on the application of the “polluter pays” principle: responsibilities are not well defined and there is a lack of transparency
  • steps in the right direction need acknowledgement, success must be made known.

The Summer School people very much look forward to join forces with the new working group “Creation” set up during the General Assembly in Loccum

Elisabeth Bücking

2011 - Geneva John Knox Center

The neighbours’ last meeting took place in Geneva John Knox Center . It was organized by Eva-Maria Fontana, the new national coordinator for Switzerland, helped by several well known members of the Forum . Italy, Spain and France were represented. We were about 24 members, pleased to become friends with new « neighbours »

VISIT TO THE ECUMENICAL CENTER AND CONFERENCE BY FULATA LUSUNGU MOYO who is a member of Central African church, working for the W C C executive program about « Women in church and society ». She expresses her difficulties to cope with the acts of violence towards women in Europe. In other parts of the world, different organizations help her in that work. Unfortunately, there is no more « women’s committee »in the KEK. E F E C W could perhaps assist her in this field.

DEBATE – MEETING with NICOLE FISCHER, first president of E F E C W. After evoking the past of the Forum, she talked about its present and future activities. She heard people saying that « to deal with the question of women in the church, is an obstacle to unity »She then asked :how to make progress and what is unity ?

Churches refer to traditions rather than to the Christian message : here lies the principal obstacle. What does Unity mean ? What can the Forum do ?
It is important to insist on the women’s social question and to create possibilities of meeting, acting and contacts.
We have always respected churches, but freedom for women is always to be conquered.

A COORDINATION COMMITTEE’S MEMBER, Carla Maurer, from the K E K, makes three suggestions for the Forum to work on : 1) Feminism, 2) relations between generations 3)a new way of working for women who have to find a possibility to act as men do. « Not only to react, but also to act ».

Carla’s two young colleagues talked about their work in the Ecumenical Council for The Young in Europe, organisation created by the K E K, but nowadays independent. This Council deals with the young’s problems and organizes seminars on human rights, economical justice and ecology.
They want to meet young women, belonging to different denominations and hope that the Forum’s members will help them get their addresses :they could then be active on Facebook, Google Etc.

PROJECTS OF THE PRESENT DIFFERENT FORUMS

France :16-18 March 2O12 :meeting in Strasbourg about « the life of Christian women and communities in Islamic countries » We want to invite Greek members because of the important influence of their culture. The Strasbourg’s members will also contact their German neighbours because of their friendly bonds. We must remind that these meetings tend « to find a balance inside the Forum between North/East and South/West ». Our Spanish, Italian and Swiss friends agree with us.

SPAIN : In Jerusalem gather 3 different religions. Palestinian Christian women need to be supported . Spanish schoolchildren will go to the West Bank. On the other hand the « Egeria »Forum project is mentioned : each year Spanish women walk a part of Egeria way.They should reach their aim in 3 years’ time. The Forum might welcome them in Jerusalem.

ITALY : The working session of the 2O12 Forum, will deal with « the different denominations of migrant women to Italy ». The women’s Federation of the Italian Evangelical Churches, violently reacted against the present political situation. In agreement with the 13 February 2011 demonstration, they sent the following message : « As Evangelical women, we revolt against sexism and the degrading way in which women are represented : it has gone too far. »Evangelical women and men were invited to support this demonstration on 13 February. In October 2O11 will take place a formation on « the woman’s body », for the protestant churches’members.

SWITZERLAND :Ecumenical relations are developed in the parishes where the different denominations work together. We do not exactly know where is the Forum’s position. On 21 May 2011 took place the women’s 5th Synod in Zurich. Every year from 25 November to 8 December, 16 days are dedicated to « acts of violence against women ». Taking initiatives at that time, would manifest the existence of the Forum.

During the meeting we meditated on a text on Wisdom. On Saturday afternoon, we visited the Museum of Reformation. Then we formed two groups : the ones visited Geneva , the others attended vigils at the Russian orthodox church. Incense, hymns and processional rites may help people pray.

Our best thanks to Eva-Maria Fontana and the Swiss group for their welcome and organization, which gave us the opportunity of discoveries and friendly exchanges.