WROCLAW - POLAND; 12 April 2008
Speaking on behalf of the Se main es Sociales de France, I would like to thank the organizers for giving us the opportunity to make this short presentation. Our present President Jérôme Vignon was very pleased to receive your invitation to attend this meeting and sincerely regrets not to be able to be with you today because of another engagement at the same time. He asked me, as the person in charge of European relations, to represent him and to convey his friendly greetings and wishes for the Wroclaw Social Weeks.
Let me begin with a quotation of John Paul II, who wrote in 1999 to the president of the SSF : “The various Social Weeks have been a remarkable gathering that have brought about many changes in public life and have written a beautiful page in the history of social Catholicism, under the inspiration of Marius Gonin and Adéodat Boissard. They have inspired many of the faithful who, in their commitment, chose to live according to the principles which are at the root of the Church's social teaching”.
The various presidents desired to serve the Church by spreading her social message. Already in 1954, Pope Pius XII wrote to Mr Charles Flory, president of the SS at the time: "Today as in the past, the Social Weeks, steadfast in doctrine, courageous in research, fraternal in the collaboration of all, must be for Catholics and for their different movements a living crossroads where, in the light of substantive reports, experiences are compared, convictions forged and plans of action developed".
As a matter of fact, from the beginning in 1904, the SSF stood by to a long tradition of large meetings, which has plaid a great part in the promotion of the Church’s social message, in the education of committed Christian, in the issuing of social proposals, many of which were finally adopted by the various governments. More recently, in coordination with similar organisations throughout Europe, they have tried to act beyond the French borders.
After Jean Gélamur, Jean Boissonnat and Michel Camdessus,
The SSF are an open forum for all to freely discuss, express oneself, be listened to, independently of one’s political or religious options and social origins. They offer a place where intellectual concepts are confronted to practical, social, economical and political experiences, a place where ethical references and landmarks are proposed.
The Se main es Sociales de France were born at the beginning of the XXth century, from the will of a few Catholics to make known the social thought of the Church and to apply it to the issues of their time, such as the condition of manufacturing workers, denounced as inhuman by the Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891).
Created by two laymen, Marius Gonin and Adéodat Boissard, it hold its first session in Lyon in 1904 (200 persons were expected, 450 actually attended !). Henri Lorin was the President of this organization until he died in 1919. Between the two World Wars, under the presidency of Eugene Duthoit, Professor in Law in Lille , the Se main es Sociales held more specialized sessions, dealing not only with social issues but also with subjects related to the major concerns of those times, in particular Peace and Democracy.
Shortly after the Second World War, under the presidency of a former "Résistant", Charles Flory (until 1960) and of Alain Barrère, Professor in Economics (until 1985), the Se main es Sociales covered various social topics, with more pronounced economic approaches, in particular related to the problems of the Third World and the phenomena of socialization. The most successful session gathered up to 5,400 persons in Lyon in 1964.
As a result of the crisis of the "Action Catholique", of Christian trade-unionism and of political forces which were inspired by the Christian democracy, the Semain es Sociales lost dynamism in the Seventies, before reappearing in the middle of the Eighties, under the presidency of Jean Gélamur (until 1995) and then Jean Boissonnat (until 2000). They have found their annual rhythm since 1995, with a number of participants of more than 4,000.
In order to stick to the reality, the SEMAINES SOCIALES DE FRANCE rely on a network of 16 regional antennas, driven by the same spirit and the same values. They have developed throughout their existence several subjects, depending on the needs of the time: before the Second World War, the social problems and the questions of Peace and Democracy. After the War came the issues of economical development, in particular in the Third World.
During the last period, under the presidency of Michel Camdessus, such concerns as the family issues, the challenge of the globalization process for individual nations, the problem of the migrants, the relations to money and, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the SEMAINES SOCIALES DE FRANCE in 2004, the question of the European enlargement were actively discussed.
Just before the last presidential elections in France , the SSF invited the candidates to express themselves on the subject: “What is a fair society?” An internet forum was held until the Election Day.
In November last year, the question of global warming and sustainable development brought together around 4000 participants, in spite of a strike of the public transports in Paris< .
The next one will tackle the difficult subject of the religion in the society of today, whether it brings war or peace, and how the issue can be handled by the authorities. It will be held in Lyon on 21-23 November and is opened to international attendance. We really hope to have the pleasure to welcome many polish representatives. We thank in that respect the Novy Staw Foundation, which has agreed to give you all necessary information, as soon as organisational details and registration procedures are set up.
(Examples of other topics tackled in the yearly sessions: "Work and Employment" (1987); "The challenges of Training" (1989); "Competition and Solidarity" (1991); "Us and the media" (1993); "A new idea: the Family" (1995); "Which Europe?" (1996); "The Migrants: challenge and wealth for our society" (1997); "To democratise the Republic: representation and participation of citizens" (1998); "From one century to another: the Gospel, Christians and the Challenge to Society" (1999); "To Work and To Live" (2000) ; "Biology, medicine and society : what will we make of the human being ?" (2001) ; "Violence. How will we live together?" (2002) ; "Money" (2003) )
After this short description of the SSF’s history, I would like to point out three main features of today SSF’s mission.
The first one is the position of the SSF within the Church: Yes, within the Church of France , but with an autonomous responsibility, an organization of lay persons, who express their own concerns, in close connection to the social, economical and political issues of our time. It has proved to be very fruitful and has certainly helped both the bishops and the priests, on the one hand, the faithful, on the other hand, to forge their own views regarding contemporary challenges.
At the time of developing industrialisation, SFF were founded to promote views regarding the social conditions of the workers. They have now clearly extended their activities to all questions of the society (economy, politics, family, sustainable development), to all fields where human dignity is concerned, thus looking for the global vision to which all Christians is invited, following in particular the recommendations of the Vatican II’s constitution Gaudium et Spes.
Thirdly, the SSF feel responsible of info rmative and educational tasks towards their members and sympathizers regarding Christian responses to contemporary issues ; As an example, I would mention again the Forum they organized on their website on the occasion of the last French presidential elections, not to forget our annual 3day-session, a periodic letter and numerous meetings on the regional level.
At the beginning of 2000, the President of the SSF and the President of the Central Committee of the German Catholics (ZdK) issued a common declaration under the title “Manifest for an European Consciousness”. This was the starting point for a partnership between the two organisations, willing to offer the “social Christians” of all European countries a regular meeting place. Consequently, a few gatherings were organised, such as in Brussels in 2001, in Berlin in 2002, in Krakow in 2003, and, after Lille< in 2004, in Zagreb in 2007.
A European working group, composed of representatives of a dozen of countries, was created in 2002, with a triple target:
- Offer a meeting place for better mutual knowledge und understanding between representatives of various European countries, with different culture and history.
- Offer an opportunity to make available relevant information regarding the European construction and allow discussions on the subject, with the intention to express common views directly to the concerned institutions,
Support the organisation of events open to a European attendance, such as the one that take place in Lille in 2004, where the SSF had the pleasure to welcome about one thousand persons from all over Europe, in addition to 3200 French participants.
A new step was taken in March 2006, when the working group became the so called IXE “Christian initiative for Europe”, which, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and in close relation with the COMECE, issued a declaration in march 2007, under the title : “Rediscovering the meaning of the European Construction”.
For the time being, IXE members are representatives of several countries, including Poland , and as said before, IXE carries out its work in connection with the COMECE.
Considering the current tendency of a growing individualism we think that IXE should in the next future deepen his reflection, improve its credibility, become more visible and prepare itself to the European elections of next year, in order to promote an ambitious project for Europe.
We are anyway very keen to exchange views and experiences, in particular with our polish counterparts. And we mostly would like to share the following message given by Pope John Paul II :
Like the prophet (cf. Is 21: 11-12), Christians engaged in social life are called to be watchmen on the ramparts who must discern the expectations and hopes of people in these times and always have the courage to defend human beings and the essential values for building society. Vigilance is necessary so that individuals and peoples are not subjected to oppressive political, economic or social structures.”