|Christian Ecology Link|
|CEL home > Links + Internat >||Sept 2007|
Destination Sibiu , Romania .
Isabel Carter writes:-
After over 20 very enjoyable years of working with Tearfund, I left this summer to focus on climate change. I began doing some part time work with the Marches Energy Agency, based in Shrewsbury, looking at their work with churches. However just a week or two later came a much greater surprise. Dr Elaine Storkey found herself unable to give a keynote speech on climate change at the 3rd European Ecumenical Conference in Romania in 10 days time.... Could I go instead of her? Why me anyway? Elaine responded that she heard I had left Tearfund to work on climate change so thought I would be ideal. Despite feeling extremely unprepared, I also felt that I couldn't possibly say no. After all this was just why I had left Tearfund - to speak out regarding Climate change! After a few days of administrative issues and planning, realization dawned that I had actually been accepted as a replacement speaker and really needed to see this through. With little more than a day to put together a paper and a presentation given other commitments, it certainly helped to focus my own thinking. What message would be appropriate? Who would be in the audience?
The European Christian Environmental Network had been planning the Creation Forum (in which I would be speaking) for several years, so there was already a clear outline of anticipated content which certainly helped. The two speeches would be followed by an hour of group discussion so it was important to help people focus on key issues to bring out during these meetings. From their discussion would come a statement for the drafting committee responsible for the final outcome of the conference. What an opportunity to reach many denominations and countries!
The other problem was how to get to Sibiu in Romania . Mike and I have avoided taking any personal flights for the past few years. I certainly couldn't fly to speak on climate change within Europe . But Romania is a very long way away from the UK !! Travel by train involved 4 or 5 changes and was very expensive. The alternative was coach travel - a mere 48 hours door to door and much cheaper! I set out with the Conways who live in Oxford on Saturday evening from Victoria coach station. We traveled via the ferry to Cologne where we had a few hours break next day. Happy memories of the time enjoyed there with Jubilee 2000 in 1999.
However, it was the next phase of the journey that was the real challenge. The next coach took us all the way through to Sibiu - 30 hours on the same somewhat 'worn' coach. On arrival an hour or so late it was already pretty full, so no chance of sitting near the front. We had a few more pick-ups in Germany and got progressively later. Twice there were large groups of Roma (there is a large population of Roma in Romania ) with mounds of luggage. Unfortunately they tended to have just one or two tickets for the whole family and so much luggage it was impossible to fit it in. (The toilet was already out of action as it was full of luggage). As there was no common language, explanations and deliberations took ages - generally involving a lot of repacking of luggage too. We were over 2 hours late in the end. This translated into very short breaks indeed as we sped through Europe . Much of the daylight hours were in Germany with lovely views of the Black forest . Austria was a very attractive service station in the middle of the night, Hungary two much less attractive loo stops. We arrived at the Romanian border around dawn for a lengthy customs check.
We traveled first through a huge flat and fertile plain in Romania . Vast expanses of land, reminiscent of the Canadian prairies. Earlier in the summer Romania had experienced two periods of extreme heat and drought and much of the maize crop was shriveled and dried up. Half of their cereal crop has been lost this year. The hay was still cut by hand in parts with old fashioned haystacks built around a central pole. Horses and carts were also in evidence, while in other parts there were large mechanized fields and plastic wrapped bales. Entrances into many of the rural homes led into courtyards with chickens, turkeys and vegetable plots. Grape vines laden with fruit were also much in evidence.
Sibiu lies in the heart of Transylvania , an area of vast wooded hills and mountains, some castles and a rich, varied and often painful history. This part of Romania belonged to the Hapsburg empire, and was part of Hungary off and on for several centuries, finally being made formally into Romania in 1918. There are still tensions and resentment between the different groups. German is still spoken by many. The Romanian language, unlike all the surrounding Slavic languages, has a Roman origin so at least is readable and related to Italian.
At last the kilometre signs to Sibiu began reducing and finally we arrived - stiff and in need of a shower and bed, but in good spirits! The registration centre was opposite the main Orthodox Cathedral - a very imposing building. The Continental hotel where I stayed, was opposite the huge tent where all the plenary meetings were held. It was also, as I later discovered, the VIP meeting place. We had various Cardinals, Metropolitans and Archbishops coming and going. Also Barroso, President of the European Commission and colleagues were at the next table for breakfast one morning! I'm generally OK about starting up conversations. However what does one use as the starting point at breakfast to a black robed Orthodox Metropolitan without English!
The Assembly began on Tuesday evening with a ceremony in the main Plaza - the Piata Mare - a stunning location - which reminded me of Sienna's Campo. Sibiu was chosen as one of the two European cities of culture this year. A lot of money has been provided to help restore some of the buildings which had suffered under all the years of communist rule under Ceausescu. It is a beautiful city in a lovely location surrounded by mountains. But for all the stunning buildings, much of the infrastructure was slightly fragile (as reporters soon discovered when everyone tried to file their reports in the evenings with frequent internet crashes).
This was the third European wide ecumenical assembly. They are held every 10 years bringing together the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Bishops (CCEE). Because of the size of Sibiu , attendees were limited to 2500 as there was no capacity for more. Those attending were a mixture of church leaders of every denomination including Catholic and Orthodox, delegates - from all denominations and countries, a large youth delegation and a team of mainly youthful and cheerful volunteers. Organisation was generally very good with occasional blips as the team from the Geneva offices were very stretched indeed. Translation for all the main presentations was provided simultaneously (using headsets) in English, French, Italian, German and Romanian. This was done really well.
The overall theme was 'The Light of Christ'. The assembly took the forward of morning worship and presentations for the whole assembly, followed each afternoon by three different fora on topics such as unity, migration, Europe , witness and peace. I was part of the Creation Forum which was on the Friday afternoon. The morning meetings were very varied. Too many worthy and lengthy speeches maybe, but some excellent talks. The music was a real highlight. It was well led and quite an experience to be singing in a language you didn't know (with a translation available in the music book), immediately surrounded by people with maybe 10 different languages all singing and worshipping together. In addition there were numerous small informal meetings every day on a myriad of different topics. Good meeting places and fascinating to talk with people from so many different countries. There was also an open invitation to attend evening worship in any of 10 different traditions throughout the city. I loved the music in the Orthodox cathedral, likewise in the Catholic cathedral. I also attended Lutheran, Taize, Anglican and Armenian worship - what a mix! There were concerts, exhibitions and musical events too mostly in the evenings - far too much to fit it all in but I did my best! Mealtimes led to a wonderful mix of nationalities and languages - but there was always some way of communicating and sharing. I also squeezed in visits to a couple of museums and the market.
Content and focus for the Creation forum on the Friday afternoon had been prepared over several years by ECEN - the European Christian Environmental Network. It was interesting to meet the various committee members and join in the preparations. Ruth Conway, who I traveled out with, is one. The afternoon had introductions, two speeches and then over 20 small group discussions in 5 different languages. From each discussion group would come a summary which would be woven into a final statement on the environment and climate change and submitted to the Drafting committee responsible for producing the Assembly statement - a document to be shared all around Europe .
I had 20 minutes allocated for my presentation and used PowerPoint to liven it up - mostly pictures and quotes. As always I ran out of time, but felt I had got over all the key points. During the talk, I asked how many people had measured their own carbon footprint, or written to a political leader. Depressingly few alas. There was a lot of positive feedback and I felt encouraged that the messages had seemed appropriate and well targeted. Romanians in particular had heard little of the facts that I shared regarding the urgency of mitigating climate change. We have about 10 years before the world will be committed to reaching 2 degrees Centigrade - the level all the scientists warn that we must not exceed. I led one of the discussion groups afterwards with around 20 people. Two of the participants were from Cyprus where the Church has allocated 20,000 Euros to buy solar voltaic panels. This funding has bought far too many panels to fit onto the church roofs so they are placed elsewhere too and generating electricity for the church to use and sell. People were full of ideas and experiences - we failed to summarize all their ideas into 2 short sentences as directed.
Leaders of the discussion groups met afterwards to summarize all the feedback. It proved an almost impossible task to condense so much thinking into a few short paragraphs, especially at the end of a long and very busy day. But we finally had 3 paragraphs that seemed to express the heart of the whole forum and Peter rushed off with it to the drafting committee who were working late into the night to prepare their statement.
A draft of the Assembly statement was shared the following morning to the whole assembly. We were unhappy with how little reference was made to the environment and climate change. Little was recognizable of all the hard work the day before. But all was not lost. Participants were invited to share their views both by speaking to the whole assembly and by writing comments. Many of those who spoke referred to the need to highlight climate change. With a number of Catholic and Orthodox members represented on the drafting committee, opportunities to be radical had to be rationalized with existing statements of policy. The youth statement on the other hand, had much fewer reservations and was a powerful and optimistic statement.
The final Assembly statement was shared at the end of the Saturday afternoon. This was considerably stronger in relation to the environment and climate. It certainly didn't contain all we had hoped, but now had three references to the need to respond to climate change - worth all the hassle and effort put in by so many. A few pages of text seemed a small item of output from such an amazing assembly (you can read this and numerous other papers on the 3EEA website) but of course that was only a small part of the value. The networking and shared learning would continue to bear much fruit all over Europe in the years to come.
The Assembly ended with a concert of light on the Saturday evening in the Piata Mare and with a final farewell after morning services on the Sunday - again in the square. After the farewell messages and heartfelt thanks to the churches and people of Sibiu there was a spontaneous chant of "unity, unity, unity" in Romanian. People gathered hands all around the Piata - many, many hundreds chanting, linking hands and finally clapping in unison. A moving sign of hope from a very special event that I felt privileged to attend.
The epic return coach journey almost equaled the Assembly with its mix of characters and nationalities - with two Romanian girls coming to do their first degrees in Manchester, a Rwandan priest going to work in Brussels , an Iraqi Kurd living in Germany and a Somali also living in Germany (17 years) translating for him. We enjoyed some really good and varied conversation to while away the hours. The Kurd was as passionate about climate change as myself so we got over all language barriers! However, my back was less happy and it was certainly good to reach Bridgnorth again.
See also Youth http://eea3.blogspot.com/ with youth accounts as the conference progressed
Copyright © 2012 Christian Ecology Link and Isabel Carter http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk
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