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"Religions Must Stand Up for Each Other'

Friday March 4

The co-ordinator of the European Commission’s engagement with religious groups has called on the different religions to ‘stand up for each other’.

Katharina von Schnurbein (right) said that all the religions need to stand against anti-semitism, Islamophobia and intolerance towards Christians, as well as prejudice between different denominations.

She said: “Crises are usually best resolved if the local rabbi, imam and minister have exchanged their mobile numbers long before. This is something important if we want to keep religion in the public sphere, religions need to support each other.”

Ms von Schnurbein’s full job title is Co-ordinator of Dialogue with Churches, Religions, Philosophical and Non-confessional Organisations. She was in Scotland this week for a reception at the Scottish Parliament hosted by the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society - a Shia Muslim organisation engaging with other communities and faiths – and attended by First Minister and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

She also held meetings with the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, discussing their current priorities and also the issues she is most involved with.

She said: “The aim of dialogue is to discuss with the respective partners their positions on EU policy. We want to hear what they think about migration policy, integration, social issues, economic issues, the labour market, environmental issues – the whole range of different EU policies where the churches and religions and non-confessionals have positions.

“The advantage that this dialogue has for us is the fact that churches usually have a view on society at large. For example, when they talk about youth unemployment the churches don’t just talk Catholic youth or Protestant youth. This broad view on society is very important.

“The dialogue has existed for quite a long time. It informally started in the 1960s and then it was formalised by President (Jacques) Delors at the time of the fall of the Iron Curtain, when he realised that it was going to be necessary, in all of the changes that were going to come in the reuinification of Europe, to take the citizens along. So he turned to the organisations that represented large groups of citizens.”

Talks take place at the national level but also the European groupings such as the Conference of European Churches. There is also an annual meeting of religious leaders in Brussels. “Last year we discussed the question of living together and disagreeing well, and the whole debate about how with an ever more diverse society we can find ways in converging the society and standing firm on the values that we have.

“And I think also, with a view to the refugee crisis, it’s just as challenging for us as a society to define our values – as we have not been pressured to do so explicitly in the past – as it could be for refugees to make these values their own.

“Democracy, rule of law, equality, non-discrimination are values mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty which is the basis for the EU, but once you break it down that’s when it becomes more difficult.

“We all agree on these general values but we haven’t found solutions to, for instance, when we have on one side someone who believes that the expression of their faith must be done in the public sphere, and then others who think it is a secular society and that means a space free of religion.

“We are still in this discussion and I think the way forward is dialogue, to see that on a lot of values we agree, and on both sides we have to find ways of accommodating the other’s needs and thoughts about how society should look.”


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