Colloquium “University Parishes and Student Churches in Europe. Past and Present.” (Leuven, Belgium) – JECI-MIEC advocating for the latter.

From the 19th to 21st March 2014 European Coordinator Maximilian Niessen attended on behalf of JECI-MIEC the Colloquium “University Parishes and Student Churches in Europe. Past and Present” which took place at the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) for the occasion of the 50 years’ anniversary of the local university parish.

The Colloquium was addressed mainly to a scientific audience consisting of researches in the fields of contemporary (Church) history, theology and religious studies from all over Europe who delivered lectures focusing mainly on the past of university chaplaincies in their respective home countries. The focus was naturally the situation of university chaplaincies in Leuven and Flanders, but the comparative paradigm of the Colloquium intended also to draw conclusions about similarities and differences between the evolvement of university chaplaincies in Europe. Dr. Lukas Rölli, Secretary General of the “Forum Hochschule und Kirche” (which is the structure AKH Germany is part of) presented the developments of student pastoral work in Germany emphasizing that it were the charismatic persons rather than the “crises” who made the difference in the chaplaincies’ orientations, since youth tended and still tends to change quickly. Repeatedly mentioned in the lectures were the Catholic Action, HVKA Belgium, JEC France and FUCI Italy.

Some of the lecturers who themselves were part of IYCS/JECI or IMCS/MIEC movements in the 1960s put a lot of emphasis on the “individualistic turn” in Church brought about by students. Consequently, a lot of lecturers used a teleological way of argumentation assuming that the partly “radical” developments in the student movements were to be considered as major drivers of change within the Catholic Church effectively leading to or even pre-empting the decisions of the Second Vatican Council.

This discrepancy between the merely scientific historical focus on the past of university chaplaincies in the light of the Colloquium’s title on the one hand and the ideals formerly propagated by some of the lecturers in their time as active student leaders on the other hand motivated Maximilian Niessen to address the audience in a brief – though not foreseen – speech on the present and future of student involvement in Church and Europe:

“Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear esteemed professors,

first of all excuse me for this act which could in your terminology maybe considered to be “revolutionary”.

I hope that I am not too much undermining the principles of historical research when I might maybe a bit naively say that hearing about the history of university chaplaincies offers a good opportunity to learn for the present. To give an example: You spoke about the impact students had on chaplains in their respective university parishes. I can tell you: This impact is still the case today.

Therefore I hope you will – although I neither use a megaphone nor throw stones at you – will incline to lend me your ears for a few minutes to share the present view of Catholic students in Europe. Who am I speaking of? I am speaking of the European Coordination JECI-MIEC which consists of 22 organizations in 20 European countries – while understanding “Europe” in a broader meaning than the EU – representing approximately 50.000 to 100.000 young people in Europe among which the JEC France and FUCI Italy – whose past you presented – are active members. If you do not believe me, I can just pick up the phone and call them. The common ground of our Coordination’s work remains the Gospel and we consider our work a humble contribution to making this world a better place.

I hope you forgive me my straightforwardness when I remind you about the appeal of Ypermann, whom you quoted yourselves: “Keep your ideals.” Now you are here as researches reflecting about the history, which is worthwhile, because this is your profession. Nonetheless, I ask what did become of your ideals and want to shift the question from what has changed through student parishes and organizations to the question what currently are the changes we bring about.

Without intending to diminish the respect and reverence towards especially those of you who actively engaged in the movements of the 1960s, I can say that a lot has changed, since – as Dr. Rölli put it – students change and also keep on bringing about change: What was considered by you a major problem for the Catholic Church – democratic structures – is now not only a reality but even a statutory precondition of our organizations. Nowadays, we do not have to go on the streets or barricades anymore to make our voice heard: In case of IMCS/MIEC we have representatives towards the United Nations in the sectors of Education and Human Rights and in case of JECI-MIEC towards the EU and Council of Europe who just have to take up the microphone – just the day before yesterday I attended a roundtable in the European Parliament. Topics such as “Human Rights” or “Religious Freedom” which were unthinkable to discuss before the Second Vatican Council are now regularly discussed at our activities. Finally the topic of sexuality in 21st centuries Europe was intended to be discussed in the coming days in Ukraine which is unfortunately not possible due to the political situation.

In the light of this I could also say that nothing has changed: In case of Ukraine, Catholic students are still on the barricades: They did not engage in fighting but referring to the message of the gospel engaged in charity work disseminating food and drinks to demonstrators as well as medical care. Before I invite you for a prayer – or for those of you who do not feel comfortable with it: for a minute of silence – for Ukraine and our member organization “Obnova” let me give you a last frank argument why the present is important: The present is the past of tomorrow. Who if not us will provide you and especially the young generation of researches future material to research when we will gather in 50 years from now for the 100 years anniversary of the Second Vatican Council?”

As an outcome of the Colloquium it is worth to be mentioned that Maximilian Niessen as JECI-MIEC representative was able to get into contact with young researches and members of the KU Leuven university chaplaincy and with representatives of university chaplaincies in London in Great Britain and Delft in the Netherlands who were interested in future cooperation.

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