Skip to main content

interfaith gathering honours european parliament president

Eliane Sperling-Levin reports on an event held in Brussels to honour Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament.
The Great Synagogue of Europe in Brussels was the venue for a remarkable event on  June 28. I shall not elaborate on the magnificent historical building or on the excellent musical interludes and the inspiring singing of renowned Cantor Israël Muller at the opening and closing of the Arch, which all enhanced the proceedings.   

In honour of Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, were gathered here the heads of the three faiths: Christian, Moslem and Jewish, in a spirit of friendship and mutual respect. Present were distinguished representatives of the European Parliament, of the European Commission, the Papal Nuncio, ambassadors, high-ranking officials, both local and international, Bishops, Imans and Rabbis.   

One might expect that speeches on such an occasion would tend to reassuring expressions of friendship, of good will to all men, avoiding any troubling issues. Such was not the case.   Bishop Guy Harpigny, on behalf of Cardinal De Kezel, Primate of Belgium, spoke of mutual respect and understanding between Catholics and both Jew and Moslems. But he did voice some concern about the tendency to dilute any faith based approach and the dominance of secular themes in all fields. 
Mr. Sallah Echallaoui, the head of the Moslem umbrella organization "Exécutif des Musulmans", proudly wearing his red fez, also spoke of friendship and dialogue. But without omitting the problem of terrorism.   Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui, spoke to the excellent contacts between the Jewish Communities with all manners of Christian groups - not only Roman Catholic - and also the Moslem Communities; the enormous and continuous progress on this admittedly long road. But he did not mince words about some very troubling developments. Antisemitism first and foremost. In the last several years, expressions of hate which were beyond the pale since the end of WW II, became acceptable. Ignorance and prejudice among the young is rampant. 
And he did not avoid the vexed question of the outlawing of ritual slaughtering, shehitah.  As we sat in the Synagogue of Europe, that very afternoon, the Flemish Parliament adopted this law, the French-speaking Parliament having already done so previously. These developments are no less than a threat to the continuing existence of the Jewish Communities in Europe.    

It was Mr.Tajani who gave the most inspiring talk. This Italian politician, who presides over the European Parliament since January 2017, had immediately called for vigilance against the increased antisemitism in Europe. He remarked at a Shoah Memorial "Antisemitism is, unfortunately, not a thing of the past".   

As a practising Christian, he wants to bring religion more actively into the public realm. He wants to fight all forms of prejudice, racism, hatred. He really wants to make a difference. He understands the significance of the outlawing of ritual slaughtering, both for the Moslem and the Jewish Communities. As an experienced politician, he did not make a firm commitment on this issue.  His moving speech was met with a standing ovation.   The meeting was closed after the resounding performance of the European Hymn.