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Interview with Dr. Pál Tóth: “Applying the principle of fraternity to Europe as a political category means building institutions which pursue collaboration in diversity, to achieve the common good”.

European elections are underway for the representatives of the 27 member states of the European Union in the European Parliament. 400 million citizens have the right to vote between 23 and 26 May, considering two opposing ideas of Europe: pro-Europeanism and Euroscepticism. This polarization is identified by some as following the geographical East-West divide of the so-called “Old Continent”. Pál Tóth, originally from Hungary, cultural advisor on the Planning Committee of Together for Europe , a network of over 300 Christian communities and movements promoting a “culture of reciprocity” in the European context and beyond, gives his perspective.

Pal Toth “It’s important to realise that as the European Union expands, whereas new member States may quite quickly embrace a market economy and democratic legal system, actually synchronizing all the very different cultural realities present in the Union is a much slower process. I use the word ‘synchronize’ and not simply redressing or adapting after the social and political conquests of the West (of Europe), because I’m personally convinced that East Europe possesses values which are the fruit of a long history of suffering and as such are of great value. We just have to think of the love for truth expressed by the Czech people, from Jan Jus to Vaclav Havel; or the small communities emerging within the “Church of silence” witnessing to the life of the Gospel; or the people who continued to fill the churches in Poland throughout the period of national secularization; or the Orthodox icons which give such unique access to the Christian mystery, especially potent in such an image-dominated era. As I see it, East Europe is not yet capable of expressing these values adequately. It continues to react impulsively to phenomena it identifies as stemming from a moral decline into decadence. But progress is not made by criticism alone; there needs to be a journey of growth together, a ‘synodal process’ – as Pope Francis would call it – involving welcoming, understanding, speaking with clarity but without being offensive, deconstructing our prejudices, and discernment as a community”.

The Brexit issue poses an existential question to the remaining States of the European Union: is it better to face present and future challenges alone or in a cohesive unit?
“I believe the radical transformation of the world in which we live places challenges before us which we simply cannot manage on a national level. German sociologist Ulrich Beck speaks of a metamorphosis of the world, which calls for a completely different way of thinking than before. Climate change, migration, organized crime, the ‘common evils’ of global capitalism, cannot be addressed effectively on a simply national level, but rather with the force of an integrated political approach.”

Chiara Lubich and Igino Giordani, founder and co-founder of the Focolare Movement, were very clear on the idea that a united Europe should promote world peace. In the light of the charism of unity, how do you rate the chances of adopting fraternity as a political category?

“Democracy in the modern world has developed as a competitive system, involving the distribution of power, a battle between different parties, a process of checks and balances, civil society curbing the excesses of public power. Applying the principle of fraternity as a political category means building institutions which pursue collaboration in diversity, to achieve the common good. Over the past two centuries, the principles of liberty and equality have been translated into legal and political categories. Now it’s time to work on the category of fraternity, which incorporates the values of reciprocity and mutual responsibility. On the political scene, alongside the political parties as agents of competition, we could see the institutions of civil society emerging to take on public roles. There are alternative models, and movements for spiritual and cultural renewal, such as the Focolare, could play a significant role in this process.”

The Focolare’s commitment towards unity in Europe is evident in the Together for Europe project. Ilona Tóth, member of the project’s planning committee, describes how the initiative came about.

“At the eve of the Third Millennium, founders and leaders of Christian communities and movements active in Europe (Chiara Lubich, Andrea Riccardi, Helmut Nicklas, Salvatore Martinez and others) pledged to place their charisms at the service of the continent, on a common foundation of mutual love. The aim was to invigorate Europe from a spiritual standpoint, based on Christian values, alongside the established geographical and economic perspectives.”

What has been achieved so far?
“The Together for Europe network is generating ‘leaven’ for people in Europe with a culture founded on Gospel-based fraternity. These gatherings throughout Europe help to demonstrate unity in diversity. In their own environments, the protagonists launch initiatives promoting peace, the family, protection of the environment, solidarity and a fairer economy etc. They are seeking ways to respond to the demands of a continent in crisis.”

Claudia Di Lorenzi

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