Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Personal message: 2013 a Year of Changes

There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. (..), always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.(..). But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance” (2 Timothy 3: 1-10)

The year 2013 is almost finished. The year is characterized by changes. One of the most important changes I saw this year was a growing public awareness of the general public concerning the importance of protecting basic Christian-Democratic values like human dignity (protecting life from conception to natural death), family (based on a marriage as a union between a man and a woman), freedom (of expression, religion and conscience) and democracy (respecting not only the democratic rules but also the spirit of democracy like open debates, respecting diversity and different world-views).  

2013: the Year of the European Citizen

It is interesting so see that in this official “Year of the EU-citizen”, quite some national and European citizens’ initiatives took place to protect and defend these Christian-Democratic values.

In France millions of people demonstrated to protect the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman and in the United Kingdom many people clearly showed their support for this universal definition of marriage as well. In Croatia, a national citizen initiative successfully called for a referendum to define marriage in their constitution by collecting 740,000 signatures making this the first successful initiative  in this country since the beginning of the 90s. The referendum itself turned out to be a success since a big majority supported this definition of marriage in the constitution. 

The European Citizenship Initiative “One of Us” to protect and respect the dignity and integrity of the human embryo collected around 1.9 million signatures Europe-wide and became the most successful citizen initiative ever organized and in Ireland thousands of people went on the street to protect their abortion-ban. 

Furthermore, many EU citizens wrote emails and demonstrated against the controversial Estrela report that was discussed twice in the European Parliament. This report was not only controversial because it calls abortion a European right that should be supported, but also went against other fundamental rights like the freedom of conscience and freedom of education. Besides this, the report brutally exceeded EU competences. Moreover, the whole report was pushed through undemocratically neither respecting decisions of the majority of the European Parliament nor the Rules of Procedure after the report had been sent back to the Committee. In the end, the report was rejected by a small majority that voted for an amendment that calls on the subsidiarity principle.
As we see the growing involvement of citizens to call for protection of fundamental rights like freedom, dignity and democracy, the arrogance of the opponents also had grown. Instead of listening to the objections of the demonstrators, the opposition try to their utmost to use all “democratic tricks” to avoid public debates and/or amendments on controversial topics (as the procedures concerning the Estrela report clearly showed).

By trying to frame the supporters as “religiously motivated” and “being pushed by the Catholic church” they aim to strip the great majority of Christians in Europe from their democratic rights. In France, the ruling coalition avoided public debates and completely neglected the voices of millions of people who demonstrated in favor of traditional definition of marriage, when changing the marriage legislation. 

In the UK and Ireland, the legislation on marriage and abortion were quickly changed without broader, open public debates. An attempt to neutralize the effect of the One of Us initiative by the already mentioned Estrela report was fortunately rejected. Good news was the fact that Spain is moving towards a new law restricting abortion in this country 

Post-Democratic Society

Therefore it sometimes seems that we live  in a post-democratic society. In the past people elected their representatives in the parliament and a government was formed that gives direction and strategy for the development of a certain country. Nowadays, the government act more as a manager guided by the experts of the so-called civil society. 

The civil society, where the experts of churches in all different humanitarian projects are not included and religious-based organizations less and less as well. The civil society exists more and more of large international lobby organizations which (based on their fundamentally secular ideology) tries to redefine rights (like the right of abortion, the right to die etc) or neglects fundamental rights like the freedom of conscience and expression. It is interesting, but also worrying, since these organizations do not only receive extensive European funding, they also have a major impact on the decisions in the European Parliament and in different national parliaments.

For 2014, I expect that this battle will continue and that attempts will be done to push resolutions through the European Parliament by avoiding the democratic spirit of constructive debating and discussing amendments. Next year, it will be quite important to see who will win the debates in the European Parliament: the democratic principles or the pressure of certain international ideologically-based NGOs with their own (financial) interests? 

I hope that it will happen like it is written in 2 Timothy 3:9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. 

Increasing intolerance in European Public Debates

Another tendency I noticed is the increasing intolerance against Christians in public debates. In public, the lobby of Christian organizations was compared with the tobacco lobby and while our opposition wanted to limit the freedom of conscience in cases of abortion and euthanasia, they accused us of intolerance and forcing our ideology upon others. I am quite shocked about the reactions I have received on some of my posts via Twitter. Reactions on my positions on certain issues were not answered by counterarguments but by unfounded accusations and prejudices. By trying to frame opposition as “religious or conservative extremism”, they try to strip us more and more from our democratic rights. I saw an assault on speakers of a catholic conference by topless feminist-gay activists in Brussels. It seems that European values like tolerance, respect, freedom of expression and diversity is less and less valid for Christians.

Therefore we live in challenging times where tensions between the values of complete individual freedom and choice vs dignity, protection of life and freedom of expression and conscience will become bigger. Let us hope and pray that the fundamental freedoms will win and that respect for different world-views will be maintained.

An inspirational change took place when the Catholic Church elected their new Pope. Pope Francisc did not only make necessary reforms in the church but he also tries to really implement the Gospel by the way he is living and acting. He got so much influence that the Times called him the most-influential person of 2013. I got the privilege to see him twice in 2013: once at the Easter celebration at the St Peter’s and the other time during the private audience with the Dignitatis Humanae Institute.

Changes in my personal life

But there were also big changes in my personal life. The biggest change was that I moved to Brussels. This has not been an easy decision for me to make. For as I do not have a personal family and I am traveling so much for my work, my apartment where I had lived for so many years was a real home for me. However, both spiritually and practically it became more and more clear that my place should be in Brussels. So, in the holiday period I moved to Brussels where I established myself. I am very thankful that the move went very smoothly. 

My prayers were also answered in an amazing way. I found a beautiful apartment in a quiet area not that far from the European Parliament and the ECPM office. After 4 months, I can say that I feel at home in Brussels already having many friends here. I feel that a new chapter in my life has started both professionally and personally.

Professionally, my work for the ECPM has become more focused on European politics. The last years my activities had been concentrated more and more on building and strengthening the international network of the ECPM. In 2013 I traveled a lot and participated in many conferences, trainings, prayer breakfasts and meetings. It is good to see that the network of the ECPM is really growing and has a bigger impact in different countries. However, I also see that many activities could also be maintained by involving others. I am therefore glad also by the growing involvement of my dear colleagues Auke Minnema and Eunice Vatran in taking over many of the projects. 

Also the new board of the ECPM shows a great commitment and is actively involved in developing vision and strategies for the organization which is really encouraging. A great start of my activities had been the organization of the successful ECPM conference in the European Parliament about the theme: “The Impact of Christian Thinking on the European Project: Past, Present and Future” and activities concerning the Estrela Report.

But first of all, I am thankful to God about His Blessings both in my personal as in my professional life. Frequently I experienced His Help and Guidance both in more difficult and in happy times. It is important to be dependent on His Love and Wisdom. I am also very grateful to all my friends who support me and my work in prayers. Prayers are the base of the work, like Aaron and Hur who supported the arms of Moses to the heaven. Even in time of discouragements and resistance, we have to continue our work, because dignity, freedom, democracy and respect for life are not Christian values but universal values that always have to be protected. 
2014 will be an important year: the year of European elections. EU-citizens can vote for their representatives in the European Parliament. Besides the crucial importance for every EU-citizen to vote, it is important to start or keep on praying for the coming elections. I wish you all a blessed 2014 and we will be in touch!

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