European Pilgrimage – Day 2, Brussels

Post by Ann Wilson

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Westminster Pilgrims visiting the European Union Parliament

Yesterday the stories we heard of migrants sleeping outdoors in Calais, having their sleeping bags ruined, their few possessions taken and, generally, being harassed and unwelcomed, laid heavy on my mind. The injustices they faced reminded me of the Palestinian situation I had witnessed in the West Bank and how those with power can use it to oppress those with little. This felt more shameful as it was close to home and my taxes were paying for the barbed wire fences keeping migrants out.

However, on reaching the European Parliament, this was a very different scenario from Calais. The parliament buildings are modern, airy and welcoming. We listened to input from a young, extremely informative civil servant from whom I learned more than I have listening to the radio about Brexit over the last few months. We were reminded that the European Union was set up to promote peace and reconciliation between people, which it has done. It’s remit, also, was the prevention of future wars in the region, and despite the increasing number of countries becoming part of it, (28 at present) has managed to do this peacefully. I was impressed by the non-adversarial approach to debate and the inclusive way of agreeing which, means that, few decisions necessitate a vote since listening and compromise lead to decision making without one. I was reminded of the Quakers approach to ‘discussion’ and the respectful way things are resolved. Decisions take longer than in the UK parliament but when 24 languages are involved, this is not surprising. Listening takes more time than shouting and offers better results. However, after the input and a look around the interactive exhibition about the history of Europe, yet again, like yesterday, the mood of the group was one of sadness. Why would we choose to turn our back on this process that has brought peace and stability to our region and it based on mutual respect and inclusivity? I wondered how different the pre Brexit debate would have been had we been educated by the likes of our speaker this morning instead of the, at times, (fake) news perpetrated by our media.

The day ended more hopefully, since we were welcomed, in the afternoon, at the Commission of the Bishop’s Conference of the European Community (COMECE) and heard how the Catholic Community is reading and responding to the signs of the times both in Europe and globally. Representatives from CARITAS Europe, CIDSE, the Jesuit Refugee Service, Pax Christi and Church and Peace gave up their time to each speak to us about their work and I was reminded that these grass roots organisations, affiliated to the Church have ordinary people doing extraordinary things and living out the Gospel by putting their faith into action. I found the afternoon both a sign of hope and a personal challenge.

This is only the end of day 2 but already there is so much on which to reflect….