THE WELCOMING ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF CEMES, EMER. PROF PETROS VASSILIADIS, TO THE INTERNATIONAL INTER-DISCIPLINARY ECUMENICAL CONFERENCE ON THE ECONOMIC AND REFUGEE CRISIS, AND THE CONFERENCE CONCEPT On behalf of the main organizers of this international, interdisciplinary ecumenical conference, the CEMES, the Centre of Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies “Metr. Panteleimon Papageorgiou” and SALLUX, the association that acts as the political foundation for the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), but also the other institutions and foundations that later joined in and rendered their support, I welcome you all, both present in this hall, kindly provided by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and those watching us through live streaming all over the world. Allow me to mention all these supporting and/or participating institutions: the Deanship of the Faculty of Theology and of the Department of Theology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the International Association for Christian Social Teaching (AIESC), the Stichting Gave, the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, the Kairos Europa, the Relational Thinking movement, the Sant’ Egidio Community and other faith-based NGOs (Apostoli, Caritas, Evangelical etc), as well as members of the European and Greek Parliament. (a) In this solemn occasion of the inaugural session, I would like to remind you that here in Greece with this conference we celebrate the second anniversary of the famous ecumenical initiative of H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew – who has kindly covered this conference under His aegis and blessing – His H. Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Athens and of All Greece Ieronymos, to visit the island of Lesvos to alert the world community of the refugee crisis. This anniversary underlines the ecumenical dimension of the conference. It is the first time that all the local Christian communities, the majority Orthodox Church of Greece, the Catholic Church in Greece, and the All-Greek Evangelical Alliance, have joined forces at such a high level. The aim of the conference is to examine further not only the theological perspectives of the current multifaceted crisis, but also the way Churches can foster political solutions in Europe by actively engaging their members in the public discussion about the economic policies of the European Union, the refugee crisis and of course the future of European cooperation. We hope, with your co-operation, this conference to be an example of European cooperation and an expression of the will of Christians in Europe to work together for the establishment of stronger relations among members of different Churches, Christian organizations and European citizens. (b) Next to the ecumenical dimension, another important feature of the conference is the inter-disciplinary character of our endeavour. Since June 2015 Europe has been confronted with an unprecedented sudden wave of refugees and migrants, in addition to the previously existing refugee and migrant streams. Churches, Christian NGOs and Christian politicians have tried to respond at the situation at hand. However, there has not been much opportunity to reflect on the broader religious, spiritual, political and economic consequences and implications of the situation in a broad ecumenical setting. This is what this conference aims to offer. With the assistance of politicians, theologians, sociologists, economists and activists of grass-root and ecclesiastical movements we expect to offer an overview and reliable picture of a phenomenon that lies at the heart of our European and at the same time Christian vision. It is important to state that Christians – and the Orthodox in particular – have long ago reaffirmed that they are ready to work hand-by-hand with all people of good will and with institutions from the secular establishment (political, social etc.), even of differing political persuasions, who share the common ethical values. (c) The third, and most important feature of this conference, is the combination of the spiritual, social and economic dimension of the refugee crisis. In one of the Messages of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches it was clearly stated that they “share responsibility for the contemporary crisis of this planet with other people, whether they are people of faith or not, because they have tolerated and indiscriminately compromised on extreme human choices, without credibly challenging these choices with the word of faith. Therefore, they also have a major obligation to contribute to overcoming the divisions of the world” (2008), with the refugee crisis being the most visible example. “The gap between rich and poor is dramatically exacerbated due to the financial crisis, which normally results from the unbridled profiteering by some representatives of financial circles, the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and perverted business practices devoid of justice and humanitarian sensitivity, which ultimately do not serve humanity’s true needs. A sustainable economy is that which combines efficiency with justice and social solidarity,” has recently declared the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete 2016). The Christian Churches slowly, but steadily, started being concerned about two interrelated aspects of globalization: ecology and economy, both stemming from the Greek word oikos (household), and both carrying inherently the notion of communion (koinonia). These two aspects, together with the unnecessary wars – staged by the world powers, but sometimes also in the name of religion – have been the real cause of our present refugee crisis. The pressure by prophetic and charismatic figures and theological movements for social and ecological justice from a faith perspective has made Christianity develop the concept of “economic justice”. In simpler terms the Christian ecumenical movement is struggling towards achievement of global justice through advocating an equitable sharing of resources and power as essential prerequisites for human development, ecological sustainability and social stability that will prevent unnecessary migrant and refugee flows. Long before a universal concern (political, scientific etc.) and advocacy for the dangerous effects of the climate change was developed, theologians from all religious quarters put a critical question to their own religious institutions: “Will they have the courage to engage with the ‘values’ of a profit-oriented way of life as a matter of faith, or will they withdraw into the ‘private’ sphere? This is the question they must answer or lose their very soul,” declared a WCC consultation of South-eastern and Central European Churches on the problem of economic globalization at the dawn of the 3rd millennium. Similar are the appeals for a Europe with a soul, and of the WCC Call for Action to build “a common voice, fostering ecumenical cooperation, and ensuring greater coherence for the realization of an Economy of Life for all” (2013), including migrants and refugees of all sorts. It is important to clearly state at this point that the Christian perspective on the economic issue of the current political debate is beyond the old bipole of capitalism-socialism, since it does not focus its interest on the techniqueandprocess of production and distribution of the material wealth, but on the source and origin of it; since according to famous Psalm: “to the Lord belongs the earth and all that are on it, the inhabitants and everything” (Ps 24:1). All the above-mentioned concerns that will be the main focus of this conference were the result of the decision of world Christian mission to address the structural sin, expressed in the intertwined contemporary crises, the economic and environmental, from the perspective of the marginalized (§ 36ff. of the 2013 New Mission Statement, Together Towards Life): “Christians are called to acknowledge the sinful nature of all forms of discrimination and transform unjust structures” (§ 49), and that “all missional activity must…safeguard the sacred worth of every human being and of the earth” (§ 42). Certainly, the refugee crisis, involving people of all religious persuasions, is also related to the inter-faith dialogue, intensively pursued during the last decades by all Christians. From a Christian point of view the inter-faith-dialogue does not simply aim at decreasing the enmity and the hostilities between people of different religions - this is what the secular powers in the world are interested in, but just for the stability of the present world order and status quo. Its focus is to make the “other” a real partner in, and not just an “object” of, mission. But mainly, and most importantly, the inter-faith dialogue aims at building upon what is left unfinished in modernity by the so-called “secular condition”. And the areas where the “modern paradigm” failed to succeed were the spiritual and material welfare of the people, with the refugee crisis as the top of the ice-berg, and the degradation in social and moral values. Its inability to enforce a lasting peace on earth, its unwillingness to preserve the environment, and its surrender to the rules of the dominant economic system, as many Christian and secular analysts insist. This failure or shortcomings of modernity in justice, peace, the integrity of creation, the world economy and the refugee crisis, is to a certain extent the result of individualism, one of the pillars of modernity, and the ensuing absolute, unconditioned, uncontrolled freedom of the individual in all aspects of life (sexual freedom, legally protected freedom in accumulating wealth etc.), heralded as the new faith after the Enlightenment. Looking at the ambivalence of modernity many Christian theologians and activists insist that there must be a criterion to judge what should be saved from the values and achievements of modernity and what should be overcome. Only if the world – and Europe in particular – listen again carefully and glean from Christian values and the shared wisdom of religions and other ages-old ethical traditions, can the positive values of the “modern paradigm” be renewed and revitalized, and thus be accepted by the faithful. For a better world, and for a better Europe.
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